malaria-endemic countries can afford them in quantities that remotely approach the world’s current consumption of chloroquine—roughly 300-500 million courses of treatment per year.1
Biomedically, today’s malaria situation also is precarious. The artemisinins are the only first-line antimalarial drugs appropriate for widespread use that still work against all chloroquine-resistant malaria parasites. If resistance to artemisinins is allowed to develop and spread before replacement drugs are at hand, malaria’s toll could rise even higher.
The challenge, therefore, is twofold: to facilitate widespread use of artemisinins while, at the same time, to preserve their effectiveness for as long as possible. The central recommendation of this report—a sustained global subsidy of artemisinins coformulated with other antimalarial drugs— is the most economically and biomedically sound means to meet this challenge.
Two caveats must accompany this report and its recommendations. Even in the best of times when chloroquine was still effective, it did not reach everyone. As a result, at least one million people died each year from malaria, most of whom could have been saved by adequate treatment. Merely substituting artemisinin combination therapies (ACTs) for chloroquine is not the whole answer. Expanded access to effective treatment will also be needed if we are to gain ground against malaria.
Second, malaria control requires a suite of interventions to prevent disease: insecticide-treated bednets, environmental measures to limit mosquito breeding, and intermittent preventive treatment of high-risk asymptomatic individuals (eventually, malaria vaccines will join the armamentarium). If proven preventive interventions are combined with ACTs, we can expect even greater progress generally, while, in some areas, good drugs plus good control can actually reduce malaria transmission to near zero. Commitments of international funding substantially greater than the sums needed for an antimalarial drug subsidy but still modest in terms of their return on investment are therefore needed to advance malaria control overall.
However, this report does not address malaria control comprehensively; that is a task for others. This committee was asked to recommend economic mechanisms to make effective antimalarial drugs widely accessible in order to stem the deaths from drug-resistant malaria that now occur day in, day out. When it comes to saving lives, effective drugs will always be a mainstay while malaria continues to threaten humankind.