Novartis’ high-dose malaria medicine Coartem has received WHO prequalification, potentially paving the way for as many as 25 million patients in Africa to access to the drug.

The decision means that Coartem (artemether and lumefantrine) is the first and only high strength (80/480mg) Artemisinin-based Combination Therapy (ACT) antimalarial available for broad-scale public sector procurement.

The higher dose strength of the drug massively reduces the pill burden compared to the original 20/120mg form  - six pills versus 24 - which could help increase compliance with ACT.

This is particularly important as failure to complete the full treatment course could reduce treatment efficacy and allow malaria parasites to develop resistance to the drug.

Therefore, Novartis is hoping that widespread availability of Coartem (80/480mg) will help improve management of the disease, which still kills more than half a million people a year, despite being both treatable and preventable.