RMRDC: Breaking new ground in malaria cure

Due to the consistent outbreak of malaria resulting in death of millions in Africa annually, the Raw Materials Research and Development Council (RMRDC) recently broke new grounds when it developed a plant to cure malaria; BINTA SHAMA reports.

 ‘Artemisia annua’

Artemesia annua also known as qinghao (sweet wormwood, A. annua yields artemisinin and its derivatives which are potent antimalarial drugs), is a medicinal plants which originated from China. Research, shows that it is an endoperoxide sesquiterpene lactone that is effective against multi-drug resistance malaria and is also known to act on P. falciparum, the plasmadium species that causes cerebral malaria. Arteminsinin is a highly effective antimalarial plant extract. However, if used alone, it is observed that malaria parasite cannot be eradicated totally to resistance against arteminsinin.

The malaria parasite plasmodium falciparum is said to be one of the world’s most lethal pests, accounting for over a million deaths per year. Ninety per cent of malaria cases are in sub-saharan Africa, 85% of these are in children under the ages of 5 years. For over 50 years, study shows that the main tool for controlling the malaria parasite was chloroquine, a synthetic derivative of the plant-based extract quinine. Chloroquine acts as both prophylactic and cure and has the advantage of very low cost ($0.10 per treatment), but unfortunately, in much of Africa as well as South-East Asia, it is no longer effective due to the emergence of resistant strains of the malaria parasite. Malaria has enormous economic costs and was reported to account for 40% of public health costs in Africa, it costs Africa $12 billion of its Gross Domestic Production (GDP) annually. WHO’s estimate put the mortally rate of malaria for children under five in Africa at 729 per 100,000. This is why the development of A. annual is being pursued assiduously at global level.

According to further research, globally, Nigeria suffers the greatest malaria burden with approximately 51 million cases and 207,000 deaths reported annually (approximately 30 % of the total malaria burden in Africa), while 97% of the total population (approximately 173 million) is at risk of the infection. Nigeria is said to account for nearly a quarter of deaths from malaria in the world – in 2018 the numbers stood at 95,000. Three of the country’s top malaria researchers reflect on why the numbers remain so high.

Importance of artemisinin

According to research work conducted by the Council, that artemisinin was first isolated in 1972 and has served as a prototype for many semi-synthetic versions such as arteether and artemether. These compounds have increased solubility in vaccines and have improved antimalarial activities. Artemisinin proved to be an excellent antimalarial agent, and artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs) are currently the preferred first-line antimalarial treatment for plasmodium falciparum. Artemisinin’s unusual endoperoxide bridge is a key to its mechanism of action-although the details of this mechanism are still being sorted out. Artemisinin and its derivatives are highly effective against multi-drug resistant parasites and result in rapid clearance of parasitemia and clinical improvement, usually within 24 to 36 hours. They are well tolerated and safe in adults, children and pregnant women. They also have a broad spectrum of antimalarial efficacy and, in particular, show good activity against the young ring forms of the parasite that halts their development into the more mature pathogenic stages. These properties are especially important for the management of severe malaria.

Artemisia annual abundance in Nigeria

Studies have shown that more than 20 medicinal plants have been identified in Nigeria. Some of these exist in various commodities, while some are indigenous to certain communities. While different communities have developed recipes or cocktail from various medicinal plants for the treatment of malaria, the increasing global attention paid to A. annua and the WHO’s support for global development of the plant has made it of global importance. Also while the cocktails developed for malaria in different African communities may have been effective, the incidence of malaria is increasing in rural communities. Closely allied with this is the fact that the active ingredients in some of the medicinal plants have not been adequately characterized for the standardization. Also the plants vary from one community to another even within the same community and State.

Researchers proffer solution on elimination of malaria

A research conducted by Olukemi Amodu, revealed that malaria remains an important public health hazard globally. “It is responsible for high disease and death rates especially among children under five and pregnant women. The malaria burden in Nigeria is high – 25% of cases globally. The causes include the climate, high transmission potential, socioeconomic development, an overstretched health care system and displaced populations.”

Another researcher,  George Ademowo stated that to beat the mosquitoes efforts should be geared towards drastic reduction of contact between humans and mosquitoes. “Surveillance is a very important component of malaria elimination. Environmental management aims to control mosquitoes by removing their breeding sites and larvae. This can be done through clearing bushes around the house and other buildings. It is important to dispose of broken pots and bottles, fix potholes on our roads and keep gutters clean.”

For Segun Isaac Oyedeji,  artemesia-based combination drugs are the most acceptable treatment. Adding that, “In 1955, the WHO launched the Global Malaria Eradication Programme to eradicate malaria globally. But not all countries were involved in the programme. After some achieved elimination, its financiers stopped financial support and it stalled. Consequently, the responsibility to eliminate malaria now falls on individual countries which makes Nigeria part of this responsibility as well.”

RMRDC initiatives

In line with the research conducted and discussed, the Council in conjunction with other stakeholders like the Federal Ministry of Health has commenced the project to develop the antidote value chain in Nigeria. Report by RMRDC projects overview states that several meetings have been held between both organisations to achieve a cure.

Director General’s view

The RMRDC Director General, Professor Hussain Doko Ibrahim, explained that in line with the present administration’s resolve to halt importation into the country and encourage more export to add value the nation’s GDP, is one of the major reasonbfoe developing ‘artemesia annua’ value chain. “Instead of Chinese, the country is now planning to source its technology for artemisinin and ACT’s production from Vietnam.

The World Health Organization (WHO) in 2004, recommended the use of artemisinin-based combination therapy for malaria.