A Global Nemesis

Malaria virus in red blood cellsMalaria is one of the most important infectious diseases on Earth. More than 2.4 billion people (40% of the global population) in over 100 countries are at risk of malaria infection by parasitic protozoa of the genus Plasmodium. Malaria is often not considered an NTD because of the extensive investment into treatment strategies over several decades by many organisations and Governments. In spite of our understanding about malaria, the last part of the 20th Century witnessed more human beings being infected with this disease than ever before. The Roll Back Malaria Programme (RBM) Global Partnership was launched in 1998 by the WHO, UNICEF, UNDP and the World Bank. In 1999 the Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV) was established to provide significant finance towards bringing new drugs or vaccines to the market place. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation along with other organisations such as The Welcome Trust and various governments and charities are also contributing.

Despite the huge investment in developing new drugs, vaccines, vector control of mosquitoes and other integrated healthcare programmes, malaria still remains a major global health crisis. There are between 300 million and 500 million cases of acute malaria each year and approximately 90% of those affected are in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Malaria claims the lives of approximately 1 million children every year. Global climate change could result in the expansion of this disease range.

Child with malariaOne of the biggest concerns in malarial treatment is the degree of resistance seen with some of the older established anti-malarial drugs such as chloroquine (CQ) and there is major concern over the emergence of resistance to artemisinin which is currently the most effective anti-malarial class of drug currently available. Artemisinin combination therapies (ACT) have been endorsed by the World Health Organization as the “policy standard” for the treatment of falciparum malaria and there is an urgent need to find new drugs that can be safely and effectively used in ACT therapy.