New Drug Resistant Malaria Threatens Asia And Africa

Strain of Malaria which is drug resistant has been found in Burma and could threaten millions

Thousands have been infected with an evolving drug resistant parasite that may account for 80% of malaria victims in the Thailand Burma border. The mosquito borne illness is becoming resistant to the anti malaria drug artemisinin, this is largely due to counterfeit medicines and incorrect usage.

People who have been suffering with the new strain of malaria have reported that the symptoms are no different to the disease that cured in a few days by artemisinin therapy only a few years ago. The new strain of malaria itself doesn’t itself cause any new symptoms or more complications, its just becoming harder to destroy the pathogen.

The Shoklo Malaria research unit, which is a research centre based in the infected area and funded by the The Wellcome Trust. Is taking huge measures to stop the spread of this new strain before it becomes uncontrollable Dr François Nosten, SMRU’s director, has studied malaria in this border region, near where the disease first became drug resistant, for three decades. He believes that in order to stop it spreading to India, then Africa, where the vast majority of the world’s malaria cases occur, it’s essential to chase the parasite into Burma’s forests and pre-emptively treat even people who may not be ill.

There are global implications for artemisinin losing its effect on malaria. Worldwide the World Health Organisation estimates that there was 207 million malaria cases in 2012 with more than 600,000 deaths, they also suggest that malaria have dropped 25% worldwide during 2000-2012. However the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation uses a different methodology for totalling malaria deaths and says the global death toll could be double the figure stated by the WHO.

The spread of the drug resistant malaria has already begun, with cases popping up further west in Burma and potentially it may have entered into Bangladesh. If this is the case and if history were to repeat itself, this dangerous and potentially deadly parasite could move further west into India and then drop south to Africa. This has happened twice before, with researchers such as Nosten fearing a third wave could be under way.

Malaria is forever outrunning its attackers, shifting its shape to survive the drugs invented to eradicate the parasite. However structural biologists have developed a drug called atovaquone which they hope will eventually kill off the pathogen. Atovaquone is only in very experimental stages yet and much more testing is needed to be done, but for the meantime it is years away from being used and so this latest strain looks like it is going to need a big blow to take it down.

Alex Carson

PiR Resourcing leaders in senior life science resourcing. For more news and information, you can follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn 


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