Health experts have warned that Kenya’s number one malaria treatment drug is no longer effective.
Speaking at a forum in Arusha, Tanzania, the scientists said AL— the first line malaria medicine in Kenya—should be replaced with the second line drug called DP which previous studies have shown is more effective.
On Friday the Kenya Medical Research Institute, (Kemri) released a statement saying the world’s most effective medicine against uncomplicated malaria is losing its edge.
The Kemri statement was based on a four-year study in Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania. The results were presented in Arusha on Friday during a meeting of the East Africa Public Health Laboratory Networking Project.
Following the failure of chroloquine and then sulphadoxine-pyrimethamine (SP) as the main malaria treatments, Kenya in 2004 turned to Artemisinin Combination Therapies (ACTs). Artemisinin, a compound derived from the Chinese wormwood herb called Artemisia annua, is the magic component in ACTs.
However, to protect artemisinin from early onset of malaria resistance, the World Health Organisation recommended it be used in combination with other chemicals.
Consequently in 2004 Kenya adopted AL, a combination of artemether and lumefantrine compounds, as the first line treatment.
In the private sector this is marketed as Coartem, a product of Novartis Pharmaceuticals. Since then several generic ALs have come into the market.
But significantly was the introduction into the market of the malaria drug Duo Cotexin by Holley Cotec of China.
Going by the scientific name Dihydroartemisinin/piperaquine or DP, the drug was soon to become the recommended second line drug in Kenya.
The scientists compared the effectiveness of AL to DP and found the latter just a little better.
“The study therefore recommends that DP, which is a second line drug, should be adopted as a first line drug,” says the statement.
But regardless of which formulation becomes the first line medicine, the chilling message coming from Kemri is that ACTs have lost their edge against malaria.
The study found higher than expected treatment failure in patients taking either medication in Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda.
The study also reported high rates of disease recurrence in patients treated with AL.