Private clinics in Africa to sell essential malaria drugs

Private clinics in Africa to sell essential malaria drugs at affordable prices. Parents of children with malaria are forced to buy cheap but ineffective drugs from private stores because of the failures of the cash-strapped public sector - but subsidies from donors will now make the best treatment affordable.

A mother with her child, who is being treated for malaria, in Katine, Uganda.

In an ideal world, a mother living in a malarial part of Africa would be able to go to her local government health clinic and get the best possible treatment for her sick baby. In practice, as I discovered when visiting the development project in Katine, northern Uganda, that the Guardian supports, there are frequent stock-outs in the public health facilities.

Sometimes she doesn't even bother going to the clinic - she heads for the familiar local drug store, where they sell her cheap drugs, like quinine and chloroquine, which no longer work very well because of resistance. The drug shops don't have what she really needs, artimisinin combination therapy - and she couldn't afford it if they did.

So it's great news that this reality has been recognised. The private clinics where 60% of people buy their malaria medicines are going to get subsidised supplies of artimisinin combination therapy (ACT). The Global Fund to fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria, has just announced that six manufacturers - a mix of big pharma and generics - have signed deals to provide good quality ACT to the private sector in eight countries.

The price will be subsidised massively through an arrangement called the Affordable Medicines Facility-malaria. Importers and others involved have promised to pass the savings down the line to make sure that the drugs are affordable for families who need them. At the moment, ACTs are only 5% of the malaria drugs bought in private stores. But the older, ineffective medicines need to be driven out of the market, says the Fund.

The Clinton Foundation, which has an impressive record on driving down the price of drugs for the poor, managed the negotiations this time too. This is what Bill Clinton had to say:

No mother should have to worry whether or not she can access the malaria medicines that will save the life of her sick child. I am pleased my Health Access Initiative, building off of our experience lowering the costs of lifesaving malaria and HIV/AIDS medicines, could negotiate the agreements that enable AMFm to ensure effective, affordable ACTs are in the reach of the mothers and children that need them most.

UNITAID, the UK government and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have put in US$216 million towards the subsidy. If the two-year pilots in eight countries - Cambodia, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Tanzania (mainland and Zanzibar) and Uganda - go well, the scheme will be extended wherever it is needed.

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