RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil - Brazil announced a new malaria treatment Thursday that scientists say offers a potentially cheap and effective way to attack a disease that largely afflicts the world's poor.
The treatment, developed by the Brazilian government in conjunction with the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative, combines existing malaria drugs artesunate and mefloquine into a single, fixed-dose tablet and reduces the cost of treatment.
A key benefit is that it reduces the number of tablets patients must remember to swallow.
"Now they only need take one to two tablets a day for three days," said Bernard Pecoul, executive director of the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative, an international alliance of seven health organizations.
"The fixed dose combination will probably mean greater adherence to the treatment program," said Keith Carter, regional adviser on malaria at the Pan American Health Organization, who was not involved with the treatment's development.
Carter said he had not seen the result of the Brazilian study and could not comment on it. But he noted that the World Health Organization has recommended similar combination treatments for several years and said development of a single, fixed-dose medication should make treatment easier and more effective.
Another single-dose combination is available to fight malaria, but Pecoul said this combination was more effective.
Pecoul said developers would not try to patent the new treatment because they are trying to reduce the cost of attacking a disease that mainly affects the poor.
The Brazilian government will distribute the medication, known as ASMQ, free of charge and will transfer the technology to India for production and distribution in Southeast Asia, where a full course of treatment should cost around US$2.50 (euro1.58).
A field study involving 17,000 patients in Brazil's Amazon state of Acre showed that the incidence of malaria dropped by 70 percent over a year, Pecoul said. A similar study in the Peruvian Amazon where the two drugs were used in separate doses only showed a drop of 50 percent.
Carlos Morel, one of the drug's developers and director of Brazil's Center for Developing Medical Technology at Fiocruz/Farmanginhos, said the number of patients hospitalized with malaria in the Brazilian region dropped from 2,500 to only 500 over the course of the year.
Malaria is a mosquito-borne disease caused by a parasite. The less time each person spends infected, the less likely it is to spread.
"This is really good news in a field where there hasn't been much good news lately," Morel said.