DAR ES SALAAM (Reuters) - Former U.S. President Bill Clinton launched a program on Sunday to make subsidized malaria drugs available in Tanzania in a test scheme that could serve as a blueprint for Africa as a whole.
The project will make life-saving ACT drugs available at 90 percent less than the current market price to a national drug wholesaler, which will then distribute them to rural shops.
Malaria, caused by a parasite carried by mosquitoes, kills up to 3 million people a year worldwide and makes 300 million seriously ill. Ninety percent of deaths are in Africa south of the Sahara, mostly among young children.
Many of those lives could be saved with modern artemisinin combination therapy (ACT) drugs, which are far more effective than older treatments such as chloroquine. But a price of up to $8 to $10 per treatment puts them out of reach for many people.
“Not one soul should die of malaria,” Clinton told reporters at a town outside Dar es Salaam after touring three medical stores.
Although drugmakers including Novartis and Sanofi-Aventis SA have reduced the cost of ACT medicines to around $1 when they are used in the public sector, the majority of Africans buy their medicine privately.
In Tanzania, around half of patients with malaria seek treatment through private drug shops instead of public health facilities, and most are unable to afford ACTs. Instead, they usually buy older drugs that are 20 to 30 times cheaper but are often ineffective due to drug resistance.
The pilot program by the Clinton Foundation HIV/AIDS Initiative is designed to test the practicality of subsidizing ACT drugs as a way to increase their use, a foundation spokesman said. The program will be rolled out in two areas in central Tanzania and targets 450,000 people in a year.
ACT treatments are derived from a medicinal Chinese plant and are costly to manufacture.
International organizations and governments, including those form the Netherlands and Britain, are currently considering a multimillion-dollar global subsidy plan for ACT medicines.
Awa Marie Coll-Seck, executive director of the U.N.-backed Roll Back Malaria Partnership, told reporters in London earlier this year she hoped a $300 million global scheme could be introduced as early as 2008.
Clinton, who is on a four-nation African tour of South Africa, Malawi, Zambia and Tanzania, said after meeting Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa that his foundation would provide support for skills training for medical personnel there to honor Zambia for its impressive fight against AIDS.
The former U.S president said his Clinton Foundation and UNITAIDS, a global anti-AIDS group, had agreed a deal with pharmaceutical firms to reduce prices of anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs) for poorer nations.
Prices of ARVs for poor nations will be in the region of $25 to $60 per person per year, down from about $200 per annually.
In Malawi, Clinton inspected a $70 million modern 80-bed hospital under construction in Neno, one the country’s poorest districts 75 miles south of the commercial city of Blantyre.
The hospital will completed in March next year and Clinton promised to officially open it.
Additional reporting by Ben Hirschler in London, Mabvuto Banda in Malawi and Shapi Shacinda in Zambia