Legend has it that the gin and tonic cocktail evolved to provide the administrators of the British Empire with both ethanol and quinine. The former would keep them happy, and the latter would help keep malaria-carrying mosquitos at bay. In the present day, chloroquinine is still a common treatment for malaria. At 20-40 cents a dose, it is dramatically cheaper than the more effective alternative: a drug called artemisinin which is derived from the Artemisia annua shrub. A course of artemisinin treatment costs between $5 and $7 – too much for many people in the developing world.
Also problematic is how using artemisinin-only treatments will rapidly lead to drug resistance in mosquito populations. Mutations that confer advantages against a particular compound are relatively common, and are strongly selected for by evolution once they occur. It is much less likely that a malarial parasite will evolve both resistance to artemisinin and to a drug used in combination before one compound or the other kills it. As such, artemisinin combination therapies (ACTs) are the preferred treatment. These are somewhat more expensive, at $6 to$10 for a course of treatment.
Several organizations are trying to tackle the cost issue. In particular, the World Bank and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are cooperating on a scheme called the Affordable Medicines Facility-malaria (AMFm). Given that malaria continues to kill 1-3 million people per year – and sicken between 400 and 900 million – such efforts are to be applauded and encouraged.