Drug-Resistant Malaria Poses Health Threat in Myanmar and Abroad
By admin February 24, 2015

A study in malaria treatment in Myanmar—where the battle against malaria is the fiercest—revealed a worrying fact that among the 940 malaria samples, 39 percent of malaria infection carries a mutation, enabling resistance to artemisinin, a front-line treatment against malaria and key weapon in the global control and eradication effort. The study, published on Feb 20th, was conducted by Lancet Infectious Diseases and coordinated by the Mahidol-Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit in Bangkok.


The result of the study rings alarm for Myanmar’s neighbor. If these artemisinin resistant parasites spread to its neighbor, India, the subcontinent and further into Africa, as has happened in the past, millions of lives could be at risk. To prevent this from happening, the international community needs to take action and launch a global effort to control and eradicate the deadly disease.


“Myanmar 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,” said Dr. Charles Woodrow, senior author of the study at Oxford University, in a press release.


Drug-resistant malaria parasites originated in Southeast Asia in the 1960s and spread from there to India, “and then to the rest of the world where it killed millions of people,” said Mike Turner, head of infection and immunobiology at the Wellcome Trust, in the press release.


This is not the first time that the world has encountered parasites resistant to artemisinin drugs, however. The only way to battle these parasites is to continuously invent new drugs. Currently artemisinin drugs are the mainstream of modern malaria treatment throughout Myanmar. The threat of resistance spreading into India is high and imminent, putting thousands of lives at risk.


“We were able to gather patient samples rapidly across Myanmar, sometimes using discarded malaria blood diagnostic tests and then test these immediately,” said Dr. Mallika Imwong, research lead for laboratory analysis at Mahidol University’s faculty of tropical medicine in Bangkok.


The study’s authors call for a “more vigorous international effort” to address drug resistance in border regions and advocate for a “systematic review and revision of medicine dosing strategies” to prolong treatments’ life spans before resistance can take hold and spread.  As malaria is contracted at extremely high rates throughout parts of South Asia, it will be necessary for the world to take the advice of the study seriously and actively seek out new treatments to fight the artemisinin drug-resistant strand of malaria before it affects millions of more people and poses a global health threat.




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