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Resistance threat to malaria drug is ‘alarming’

Published on 20/02/15 at 11:49am
Mosquito image
Malaria is spread via mosquitoes

Resistance to a group of drugs that possess the most rapid action against malaria – artemisinin, aka Qinghaosu ­– is now spreading according to a study in the Lancet Infectious Diseases journal.

The infectious disease which is spread via mosquitoes is now on the verge of resisting the group of drugs in India, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Researcher Dr Charles Woodrow, from Thailand’s Mahidol-Oxford tropical medicine research unit told the BBC: “We can see artemisinin resistance is clearly present quite close to the Indian border, that's clearly a threat and in the future is likely to lead to extension of the problem to neighbouring areas.”

Tests in Burma – a nation that borders India – showed that resistance to the medicine is rife across the south-east Asia country. The study found that almost 40% of the 940 parasite samples taken revealed artemisinin resistance.

Woodrow said that Burma, “is considered the front line in the battle against artemisinin resistance as it forms a gateway for resistance to spread to the rest of the world”.

South-east Asia has lower levels of natural malaria immunity compared to continents like Africa, this means that the drugs have to work twice as hard due to the lack of background resistance.

According to the Worldwide Health Organization the tropical disease caused an estimated 584,000 fatalities in 2013, mostly in parts of Africa. Most deaths occur among children but the rate has been reduced by around 58% since 2000.

Tackling the resistance

Resistance to the drug Chloroquine – another medication used to treat malaria – was discovered in 1957 leading to millions of deaths across Asia and Africa. The treatment was replaced by Roche’s combination antimalarial tablet Fansidar (sulphadoxine/pyrimethamine) before being substituted by artemisinin.

Experts are worried that this most recent drug is losing effect, “The pace at which artemisinin resistance is spreading or emerging is alarming,” warns Philippe Guerin who is the director of the Worldwide Antimalarial Resistance Network.

He concludes: “We need a more vigorous international effort to address this issue in border regions.”

Tom Robinson

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