An international partnership, backed by the United Nations, has been launched which hopes to put affordable malaria drugs within reach of millions of people, especially children, in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.

The rationale behind The Affordable Medicines Facility for malaria, as the new initiative is known, will be to reduce the price of effective new therapies “so they can drive older, ineffective drugs out of the market”. The new drugs, known as artemisinin combination therapies or ACTs, are currently 10–40 times more expensive when sold over-the-counter than the old treatments which have lost their effectiveness because the malaria parasite has developed resistance to them.

As a result of the high cost, many still buy these cheaper less effective drugs and currently, only one in every five patients treated for malaria has access to ACTs, the Fund said. The initiative was developed through Roll-Back Malaria – a broad partnership of public and private institutions that includes the Global Fund along with the World Bank, the UN Children’s Fund, the Dutch Government, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Clinton Foundation.

The initial costs of $225-233 million for medicines in the first two years will be shared by the UK Government and UNITAID, “an international mechanism to finance quality-assured medicines and diagnostics against HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, created by France and supported by Norway” and 26 other nations.

Prices of ACTs will be reduced from $6-$10 per treatment to between $0.20–$0.50 by a combination of reduced production prices by the pharmaceutical companies in exchange for “increased and predictable demand and a subsidy funded by international donors”. The scheme will initially be offered to 11 countries (Benin, Cambodia, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania and Uganda) and after two years, a decision will be taken on whether to expand it globally.

Several other organisations and Governments have indicated willingness to contribute additional funding to the initiative, the UN noted.