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Increased Demand for Malaria Drug Puts Sweet Annie in Critically Short Supply

(November 20, 2004) Officials at the World Health Organization (WHO) and other international public health officials are concerned about the shortage of the traditional Chinese herb sweet Annie (Artemisia annua L., Asteraceae), the source of the antimalarial drug artemisinin and its derivates arthemether and artesunate. As a result of the shortage, prices have quadrupled, according to a recent article in the New York Times.(1)

As recently reported in HerbalGram 64,(2) the WHO has officially approved artemisinin for use in Africa where malaria is a major health problem.

The Times article reports that until early 2004, the annual total consumption of raw artemisinin (the pure compound extracted from sweet Annie leaves) was 30 tons; the price had held for several years at about $115 a pound. In April when WHO forecast that the total world requirements for 2005 would be 130 to 220 tons, the artemisinin price jumped to $180 per pound and is now between $365 and $455 per pound.

Most of the world’s commercial supply of sweet Annie comes from plantations in China and Vietnam. Cultivation efforts are currently underway in Africa in order to supply the raw material and eventually the value-added artemisinin and derivatives for the large-scale malaria epidemics on that continent.

-Mark Blumenthal

References

(1) McNeil DG Jr. Plant shortage leaves campaigns against malaria at risk. NY Times. Nov. 14, 2004.

(2) Purcell K. WHO approves artemisinin for malaria in Africa. HerbalGram. 2004;No. 64:19-20.