If malaria experts are to be believed, Kenyan health authorities could face serious embarrassment in the future for their reluctance to fully commit themselves to a programme designed to make an effective malaria drug.

The project, known as Malarone Donation Programme, is supported by Glaxo Wellcome, a multinational pharmaceutical company. The programme aims to give poor people living in high-risk areas access to the drug malarone, which experts say is 98 per cent effective in treating the disease.

The drug is currently registered in 25 countries, including Kenya and Uganda. However, the cost ( us $39 for a full treatment) is prohibitive for a majority of people living in developing countries.

Although a pilot malarone project was launched in Kenya at the Siaya District Hospital in April 1999, the country's health authorities are still reluctant to fully participate in the programme. Unlike Uganda, Kenya authorities are suspicious that "Glaxo is mounting a dastardly marketing ploy by weaning the country off existing drugs,' before it starts to charge for the costly malarone.

However, given the priority accorded by the Kenyan government to eradicate the disease, its reluctance to participate in the malarone project is inexplicable, say critics. Andrew Bullock, Glaxo Wellcome's managing director for the country, also expressed regret that the full potential of the drug, which has the World Health Organisation backing, remains unexploited in the country.

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