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"Coca-Cola" Malaria Drug Scheme Kicks Off With $225 Million

Until now, the main way that do-gooders have supported treatment programs for malaria in the developing world has been to give the governments of poor countries money to purchase drugs. The thinking was that patients would get their drugs from government clinics.

But in what has been called "an incredibly exciting experiment" in economics, today began a new way to bring malaria drugs to the world's poorest people: going the private route. The scheme, called the Affordable Medicines Facility for Malaria, was officially launched today in Oslo with a $225 million budget, thanks to donations by the United Kingdom and UNITAID, an international fund filled with taxes on plane tickets.

The effort aims to attack a major problem in malaria control. A new generation of drugs called artemisinin-based combination treatments is safe, effective, and cheap by Western standards; but in the pharmacies from which the world's poorest people buy their drugs, they can still easily cost $6 or more per treatment course. That's easily as much as 30 times more than old, ineffective drugs and counterfeit drugs. With the new subsidy, paid directly to drugmakers, the price for a full treatment course with the new combination drugs in the private market should come down to between 20 and 50 cents per treatment course. That should make it much more attractive for patients to make the best choice.

From the Science story on the new method, published in November:

"For years, we've been saying in public health: If only we knew how Coca-Cola gets its cans into the most remote African villages, we could do the same for drugs," says health economist Ramanan Laxminarayan of Resources for the Future in Washington, D.C., who sat on the IOM panel. "Well, this is how they do it--by relying on the market."

The new scheme will be managed by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria in Geneva; the facility's new director is former World Bank economist Olusoji Adeyi.