Resistant malaria can result in millions of deaths

Scientists have found new evidence that resistance to the front-line treatments for malaria is increasing. “Spread of drug-resistant malaria parasites and overspill into sub-Saharan Africa, where most malaria deaths occur, would be a public health disaster resulting in millions of deaths,” according to Dr Standwell Nkhoma from the Texas Biomedical Research Institute.

The scientists have confirmed that resistant strains of the malaria parasite have been found on the border between Thailand and Burma, 500 miles (800km) away from previous sites. Researchers say that the rise of resistance means the effort to eliminate malaria is “seriously compromised”. The details have been published in The Lancet medical journal.

This new data confirms that these Plasmodium falciparum parasites are growing steadily more resistant. Prof Francois Nosten, who is part of the research team that has carried out the latest work, says the development is very serious. “It would certainly compromise the idea of eliminating malaria that’s for sure and will probably translate into a resurgence of malaria in many places,” he said.

For many years now the most effective drugs against malaria have been derived from the Chinese plant,Artemisia annua. It is also known as sweet wormwood. Prof Nosten: “If we were to lose artemisinin then we don’t have any new drugs in the pipeline to replace them. We could be going back 15 years to where cases were very difficult to treat because of the lack of an efficacious drug.””

Prof Nosten says the current spread of resistance could be similar to what happened in the 1970s with chloroquine, a drug that was once a front-line treatment against the disease. “When chloroquine resistance reached Africa in the middle of the 1970s it translated into a large increase in the number of cases and the number of children who died increased dramatically.”

Read the complete article on BBC News


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