July 06, 2017

Research Roundup: Malaria research funding uneven and inequitable, Europe's plan to combat AMR, and unverified malaria medicines on the global market

Program Assistant
PATH/Mike Wang

In this regular feature on Breakthroughs, we highlight some of the most interesting reads in global health research from the past week.

At Mazambuka General Hospital maternal and child health clinic, women and children wait in an enclosed porch, where a mural reads "Mothers... protect your family from Malaria - buy insecticide treated nets" (Photo: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki)
The University of Southampton studied malaria funding in Sub-Saharan Africa with the intent to map funding amounts in regions where the malaria is endemic. While global deaths due to malaria have fallen by 60 percent over the last 20 years, the parasite still kills over 400,000 individuals every year. Further, the University found that about 25 percent of Sub-Saharan African countries do not receive the funding for malaria research they need to successfully mitigate the impact of the disease. While all countries received funding for non-research purposes—such as for resources like bed nets and anti-malarial drugs—this funding is not sufficient for the regions where mosquitos carrying the parasite are becoming increasingly resistant to current drugs, vector controls, and preventative methods. A number of factors contribute to this gap in funding. Among the most critical is the lack of adequate research infrastructure in many Sub-Saharan African countries.

The European Commission, in partnership with the European Union (EU), have devised and launched a new-age action plan to combat antimicrobial resistance (AMR). The foundation of the plan posits that AMR impacts not only human health, but also in environmental and animal health. The goal of these efforts is to make the EU a “best practice” region for combatting AMR; to boost research, development, and innovation; and to shape the global agenda. The new plan was launched to improve upon the efforts of the previous action plan, as AMR-related deaths are estimated to kill 25,000 Europeans every year. The new plan aims to address a wide range of issues related to AMR in the EU, including the varying levels of resistance around the Union, controlling agricultural practices, and controlling antimicrobial use.

Boxes of Sanofi ASAQ Artesunate Amodiaquine Winthrop artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT) drugs, which have been approved by WHO (PATH/Patrick McKern)

Quality-assured malaria drugs undergo substantial testing and verification from international organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO). A recent study published in Malaria Today found that the private sector has made many non-quality-assured medicines available in several malaria-endemic countries. For instance, over 40 percent of private sector organizations in Kenya stock non-quality-assured drugs. These drugs have not been patient tested, have not gone through adequate clinical trials, or may have even been denied approval by regulating bodies such as WHO. Thus, not only is patient health and safety is compromised, but also these drugs have the potential to exacerbate vector- or malaria-resistance, making combating this disease more difficult.