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Thursday, July 08, 2010

Gates grant funds production of genetically engineered malaria drug

Posted by Kristi Heim

The Institute for OneWorld Health, a San Francisco-based nonprofit, said it has received $10.7 million from the Gates Foundation to begin commercial production of a key ingredient for malaria treatment.

In a partnership with drug company Sanofi-Aventis, the institute will use the Gates grant to prepare for large-scale production and commercialization of semi synthetic artemisinin by 2012.

Semi synthetic artemisinin is produced by a combination of genetic engineering and synthetic chemistry.

Artemisinin, the standard treatment recommended for malaria, is derived from artemisia, an herb found in Chinese medicine from the leaves of the wormwood tree.

Whie the parasite that causes the mosquito-borne disease has developed resistance to traditional drugs such as chloroquine, artemisinin in combination with other drugs is considered to be the most effective medication and credited with raising recovery rates globally.

The problem is its cost. Labor intensive extraction drives the price up and out of reach of most people in malaria prone areas such as sub-Saharan Africa.

This scientific paper describes the process, and this article offers a plain English translation of the project to use genetic engineering techniques to create microbes that can mass-produce artemisinin. (The University of Washington is also studying artemisinin's potential in cancer prevention.)

But even a more stable supply may not fully solve the problem of drug resistance when it comes to malaria. U.S. health officials say resistance to artemisinin is spreading.

The World Health Organization (WHO) warned last year that parasites resistant to artemisinin had emerged along the border between Cambodia and Thailand.

The Gates Foundation gave the Institute for OneWorld Health a five-year $42.5 million grant in 2004 to establish and validate a manufacturing process to make artemisinin-type drugs more affordable.

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Cambodia: Halt US Aid to Abusive Military Units

Source: Human Rights Watch
Reuters and AlertNet are not responsible for the content of this article or for any external internet sites. The views expressed are the author's alone.

(New York) - The US selection of a Cambodian military unit with a record of human rights abuses to be the host of an annual peacekeeping exercise in Asia undermines the US commitment to promoting human rights in Cambodia, Human Rights Watch said today.

The "Angkor Sentinel" exercise is part of the 2010 Global Peace Operations Initiative, an effort jointly run by the US Departments of Defense and State to help train peacekeepers. Co-hosted by the US Pacific Command, Angkor Sentinel will be the largest multinational military exercise held this year in the Asia-Pacific region, with more than 1,000 military personnel from 23 Asia-Pacific countries taking part.

The peacekeeping exercises will begin on July 12, 2010, with a five-day "command post" exercise in Phnom Penh. A two-week field training exercise will follow, with Cambodia's ACO Tank Command Headquarters in Kompong Speu province as the host. The US Defense Department funded construction there of a US$1.8 million training center for the 2010 initiative.
"For the Pentagon and State Department to permit abusive Cambodian military units to host a high-profile regional peacekeeping exercise is outrageous," said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "The US undermines its protests against the Cambodian government for rampant rights abuses like forced evictions when it showers international attention and funds on military units involved in grabbing land and other human rights violations."

For years, the ACO Tank Unit has been involved in illegal land seizures, as documented by the US State Department and by Cambodian and international human rights organizations. In November 2008, the unit seized the farmland of 133 families in Banteay Meanchey province, ostensibly to build a military base. In 2007, soldiers from the unit in Kompong Speu province used armored vehicles to flatten villagers' fences, destroy their crops, and confiscate their land.
Since 2006, the US has provided more than $4.5 million worth of military equipment and training to Cambodia. Some of that aid has gone to units and individuals within the Cambodian military with records of serious human rights violations, including Brigade 31, Brigade 70, and Airborne Brigade 911.

The Phnom Penh portion of Angkor Sentinel is likely to showcase elite Cambodian military units based near the capital, such as Prime Minister Hun Sen's personal bodyguard unit and Brigade 70, both of which have been linked to a deadly March 1997 grenade attack on the political opposition, and Airborne Brigade 911, which has been involved in arbitrary detentions, political violence, torture, and summary executions.US material assistance has also gone toward rights-abusing units such as Brigade 31, formerly known as Division 44, which in 2008 used US-donated trucks to forcibly move villagers evicted from their land in Kampot province. In recent years Brigade 31 has been implicated in illegal logging, land grabbing, and intimidation of opposition party activists during the 2008 national elections. The unit was also involved in summary executions of captured soldiers loyal to the FUNCINPEC party during a 1997 coup staged by Hun Sun.

Cambodian military personnel are not held accountable for serious rights violations. Instead, Hun Sen has promoted military officers implicated in torture, extrajudicial killings, and political violence, such as Hing Bunheang, the deputy commander of Brigade 70 at the time of the 1997 grenade attack, who was made deputy commander of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces in January 2009.

In December 2009, Cambodia deported 20 ethnic Uighur asylum seekers at grave risk back to China on the eve of a visit by senior Chinese officials to Phnom Penh. The US cancelled delivery of 200 surplus military trucks and trailers to Cambodia under the US Excess Defense Articles program. This was only the most minimal response to a serious breach of Cambodia's obligations as a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention, Human Rights Watch said.

In February, Hun Sen announced plans for corporate sponsorship of military units as a way to support defense costs. More than 40 Cambodian businesses have agreed to subsidize military units, including some companies that have long been allowed to misuse military units as the equivalent of security contractors to protect and support their business ventures in agri-business, banking, casinos, and national media.

"By essentially auctioning off military units, Hun Sen revealed that many military units are little more than guns for hire, not the defenders of the Cambodian people," Robertson said. "The US should not be training corrupt and abusive military units for global peacekeeping."

The US government should suspend military aid to Cambodia pending an improved and thorough human rights vetting process that screens out abusive individuals or units from receiving any aid or training, Human Rights Watch said. Certain military units, as well as individual personnel from them, should be immediately banned from Defense Department assistance, including Hun Sen's bodyguard unit, Brigade 70, Brigade 31, and Airborne Brigade 911, and any of their sub-units.

"US support for peacekeeping training cannot mean turning a blind eye to soldiers and units who have violated human rights," Robertson said. "Instead, military units that are called to deploy abroad as international peacekeepers must be true professionals, not only in technical expertise, but in their respect for human rights."
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US, Cambodia Set To Mark 60 Years of Diplomacy

Hem Heng, left, Cambodian US Ambassador to Washington alongside with Tea Banh, Minister of Defense, in a pagoda in Maryland.

The embassy in Washington will mark 60 years of diplomatic relations with the US on Friday, with celebrations scheduled in Cambodia in weeks ahead.

The Cambodian Embassy has invited 200 guests and dignitaries for a performance of traditional dance and a live concert Friday, the Ambassador Hem Heng told VOA Khmer.

In Cambodia, the US Embassy is hosting a week of activities starting from July 18. On that day, the Pacific Fleet Marine Band will play a concert at Chaktomuk Hall in Phnom Penh, followed by another performance in Battambang town on July 20.

The award-winning “New Year Baby,” produced by Socheata Poeuv, will play July 19 at Chenla Theater in Phnom Penh. On July 21 and July 22, the government and US embassy are co-sponsoring a discussion of former ambassadors and historians that will be open to the public on both days. And on July 24, the embassy will host a public dance recital of “Seasons of Migration,” by master dancer Sophiline Shapiro, at Chaktomuk Hall.

The celebrations are part of a continued program to mark diplomatic dealings that have not always been smooth. The US was behind a coup that ousted then prince Norodom Sihanouk and preceded the rise of the Khmer Rouge. It also undertook a secret bombing campaign during the Vietnam War.

Relations between the two countries have improved in recent years, with the resumption of direct aid and the lifting of Cambodia from a trade blacklist, following soured relations in the aftermath of the 1997 coup d’etat.
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