In Africa, a child dies every 30 seonds from malaria.
Artemisinin, also called sweet wormwood, comes from the Artemisia Annua plant. Artemisinin is extracted as a white powder. The Artemisia Annua plant is native to China, where it is known as qinghao and is taken in tea form. Now it is grown around the world, including in Tanzania, where it is a large-scale project. The tall plant has a single stem with tiny yellow flowers. It is named for the Greek goddess of light, Artemis. The powder is recognized as an anti-malaria drug and is being embraced over other malaria treatments.
According to CPAmedia, Ho Chi Minh went to Mao Tse Tung seeking a cure for malaria because the disease was devastating his troops. Simultaneously, an archaeological dig in southern China discovered an ancient script from approximately 168 B.C. for a medicinal brew. When the North Vietnamese got the formula, the Viet Cong troops recovered from malaria and were able to continue fighting.
In the 1990s, plantations were started in the Hanoi region. Farmers began growing Artemisia Annua. They developed a powder that was quickly adopted throughout Vietnam for malaria treatment. According to CPAmedia, studies done on Artemisinin showed a 97 percent effectiveness for the treatment of Falciparum malaria.
In 2004, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced the approval of Artemisinin for malaria treatment. The WHO modified its stance in 2006 to require Artemisinin be used with other anti-malaria drugs. The combination is intended to halt malaria parasites from becoming resistant to the drug. The combination, called Artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT) is the main malaria treatment in Africa and Southeast Asia. Symptoms are relieved quickly, usually within several days.
The University of Washington in Seattle is now conducting tests to determine if Artemisinin has any cancer treatment benefits. Early results are showing that Artemisinin selectively kills cancer cells. The research is in the early stages, and conclusive results are years away.
The exact mechanism of the powder used to kill the malaria parasite is still unknown, although its effectiveness is recognized. Previous anti-malaria drugs have had problems because the parasite becomes immune, making the drugs useless against new generations of mosquitoes that carry the malaria parasite. The current theory is that by using the ACT method and continually adjusting the combination of drugs, the parasite won’t be able to develop immunity.
Some agencies are wary of stopping current treatment and trying a new drug that may not prove reliable. Ongoing supply is also a consideration. Other drugs such as chloroquine are very inexpensive, costing approximately 10 cents per dose. ACT costs from $1.50 to $2.50 a dose. The cost has created two problems. One is that in Africa, corruption may cause the drug to be seized and not make it to impacted people. Another problem is that there are many counterfeits being advertised as the real thing. According to CPAmedia, places like Vietnam, Cambodia and Burma already have this problem.