If ASAQ and other drugs like it are made widely available, along with other anti-malaria weapons such as bed nets impregnated with insecticide, the number of malaria cases in Africa could be dramatically cut.

 

Virulent killer

 

ASAQ is the result of a $16m, two-year project by the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative and Sanofi-Aventis, the pharmaceutical manufacturer.

 

The drug has already been registered in Morocco, and has been authorised in 10 other African countries.

Instead of cutting two different pills intended for adults into child-appropriate sizes - a less-then precise method - health care workers will now be able to give children a single pill.

 

The drug comes in four formulations, including versions for infants and children over 13, or adults. ASAQ merges two pills into one, making it easier both to prescribe and to take. Children will need to take one tablet per day for three days.

 

Significant advance

 

"Having a fixed-dose combination is a significant advance," said Dr Chris Hentschel, president and CEO of the Medicines for Malaria Venture. "The fewer pills people have to take, the more chance they will actually take them."

 

ASAQ is cheaper than other currently available fixed-dose combinations, and will be available at-cost price to countries battling malaria, international organisations, and non-governmental organisations.

 

The pills cost less than 50 cents for children, and less than $1 for older children and adults. Even at these relatively low costs, however, that may still be too expensive for Africa.

 

Experts hope prices will fall as similar drugs are developed in the future, and that the international organisations and donors who buy the medicines will get more value for their money.