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Artemisia annua fights malaria

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					Artemisia annua fights malaria

Artemisia annua, more commonly known as wormwood or sagewort, has been applied
for a variety of ailments, including haemorrhoids, coughs and fevers. China and Vietnam
are the main sources of the plant native to Asia, but they have been unable to meet a step
increase in demand. The World Health Organisation (WHO) says demand for
Artemisinin-based combination drug treatment rose to 30 million courses in 2004, from
just 2 million courses in 2003.

Last year, after trials in several countries, it was found that the plant grows well in East
Africa-fitting, as Tanzania health officials call malaria this country’s number one killer,
with roughly 100 000 fatalities, mainly children, each year.

Resistance to other antimalarial drugs has grown over the years, leading WHO in 2001 to
recommend artemisinin-based combination drug treatment.

Some farmers who have been growing maize and beans for years are switching to
Artemisia annua, a medicinal herb from which artemisinin is extracted to make drug or a
combination of drugs used to treat malaria. The treelike plant, which grows up to six ft
(1.8 m) is extremely valuable and does not need as much care as maize, largely acting as
its own pesticide and insecticide.

Farmers expect to earn about US$36 when they harvest the plant’s thick foliage,
compared with about $22.7 from maize crop. Scientists are working on a synthetic
version, but this has not yet been perfected. However, switching back once the Artemisia
annua market fades should not be a problem for farmers, since the medicinal plant takes
les toil on the soil than maize.

In the meantime, increase Artemisia annua supplies could bring down the costs in a poor
country such as the United Republic of Tanzania. Artemisinin-based combination
treatments cost about $2 a dose. Other antimalarial drugs cost between 10 and 15 cents.

A cheaper alternative to artemisinin-based combination drug treatment for malaria is for
people growing the plant in their gardens to pluck and dry a few leaves to make an
infusion taken over seven days. There have been no widely recognized scientific studies
of such infusions.

Source:
Guardian Unlimited [United States], 17 June 2005

				
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