Mondolkiri’s Soil May Produce a Weapon for Fighting Malaria

A powerful weapon against ma­laria could soon be produced in Cambodia and distributed locally.

The French NGO Nomad Re­cher­che et Soutien International re­­cently concluded that the moist, light soil of Mondolkiri province is ideal for artemisia annua—a flowering plant distilled to produce ar­te­­­misinin, the most effective known anti-malarial.

Studies have shown that when used in combination with other drugs, artemisinin is 95-percent ef­fective in curing the illness. The NGO’s staff found that a one-hec­tare crop of arte­mi­sia grown in Mon­dolkiri could pro­­duce at least 15,000 treatments, rivaling the pro­duc­­­tion rate of the two main producers, China and Viet­nam.

Nomad Recherche General Co­ordinator Barbara Donaldson said that since their four-year study, the NGO has begun talks with the hu­­manitarian arm of private French pharmaceutical company Pi­erre Fabre to manufacture and dis­tribute the drug within Cam­­bodia, and explore oth­er re­gions in the country to cultivate the crops. She said Nomad Re­cher­che would support manufacture and production of the drug only for national distribution.

“Exporting anything wouldn’t be a good idea, but it would be great to reduce the gap between supply and demand in Cambo­dia,” Donaldson said. “There are probably other places in Cambo­dia it would grow, possibly in Bo­kor [in Kampot province], or anoth­er cooler area.” She said anti-malarials made with Mon­dolkiri artemisinin would likely be dis­tributed within the province first.

Artemisia annua, commonly known as wormwood or sagewort, has been used for centuries as medicinal tea and a poultice for various ailments, including cough, fe­ver and hemorrhoids. Distilled ar­te­misinin is most effective against malaria when used in combination with another drug, such as lumefantrine or mef­loquine, which kill whatever parasites have dodged the dose of ar­temisinin.

Experts consider artemisinin com­­bination therapy the most pow­­erful treatment against malaria. Despite a WHO warning that its misuse could create an incurable malaria strain, WHO of­ficials say China and Vietnam have been un­able to keep up with sharply increasing de­mand for the drug.

In a news conference in Wash­ington earlier this month, Dr Arata Kochi, the new WHO malaria program chief, warned that misuse of ar­temisinin could reduce its potency and create a resistant malaria strain. He demanded that pharmaceutical firms stop making and selling pure arte­misinin tablets, which he said could lead to resistant malaria, and to use it only in a cocktail of other anti-malarial drugs. Donaldson said Nomad Re­cher­che would act only within WHO guidelines.

Dr Chang Mosheng, a WHO mosquito-borne disease specialist based in Cambodia, said the ar­temisia crops could potentially be­nefit the nation’s health as well as its economy. “Artemisinin is a must,” he said.





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