A Chinese delegation of medical researchers came to Phnom Penh last week to discuss a new medicine whose development Cambodia’s malaria experts and policy makers have been watching for a long time.
Artekin is a pill made from the compound dihydroartemisinin, which took nearly a decade to develop and was just approved by China’s drug authority, said Li Guo Qiao of the Sanya Tropical Medicine Institute at the Guangzhou University of Traditional Chinese Medicine.
“This is a new generation of anti-malaria compound,” said Shan Cheng Zhang of Guangzhou University. “More than 10,000 people were involved in clinical tests around the world.”
The Cambodia National Malaria Center conducted a clinical test in Kratie province in 1999. (Since Plasmodium falciparum, the malaria parasite species prevalent in Cambodia, develops a resistance to drugs, Cambodia has been testing medicines on a regular basis since 1979.)
The Artekin treatment consisted of giving patients two pills every six hours during a 24-hour period. Patients were kept under observation at Snuol township hospital for seven days, and checked after 28 days, said Yi Poravuth, technical officer for the center.
Most patients’ conditions improved within one to three days, and 45 of the 48 patients were totally cured, he said. Results showed that the Artekin treatment was quick, produced no serious side effects, and proved effective in most cases, Yi Poravuth said.
In addition, Artekin is inexpensive. Using it on a large scale may bring the cost of treatment down to $1 per person, said Stefan Hoyer, medical officer for malaria control with the World Health Organization in Cambodia. The combination-drug treatment used in Cambodia at the present time costs about $3.
“[Artekin] provides great hope for malaria control not only in Cambodia, but also in other regions of the world such as Africa,” Hoyer said.
However, it may take a year or two before the National Malaria Center can consider Artekin for Cambodia’s malaria-control program, said center director Doung Socheat. The medicine needs to be manufactured in large quantities before this becomes feasible, he said.
Artekin developers are negotiating with international pharmaceutical firms to manufacture and release the medicine as soon as possible, said Shan Cheng Zhang. In addition, they plan to open a factory in Guangzhou and maybe one in Cambodia through public/private partnerships, he said.
In the meantime, the European Commission intends to conduct further tests to study the effect of Artekin on pregnant women, babies and children, said Sean Hewitt, EC malaria control specialist for Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.
Cambodia is running a malaria early-diagnostic and treatment program that involves both private and public medical sectors. Through the end of May, the number of severe malaria cases had dropped by nearly 39 percent and deaths by 58 percent compared to the same period in 2000.