A dangerous strain of malaria is spreading across Asia, and experts are calling on international health organizations to take appropriate action.
According to experts who identified the strain in Myanmar, the form of malaria spreading is resistant to artemisinin, the primary drug used in malaria cases.
Experts are concerned that once the resistant strain hits India, a serious threat to global control could be at hand. According to research in the journal Frontiers, India is among the 35 countries that contribute 96 percent of total malaria cases and 98 percent of total malaria deaths in the world–and that’s regular, artemisinin-treatable malaria. Ninety percent of malaria related deaths were in rural areas of India, while about 86 percent took place away from the health centers. This show how dangerous a resistant strain of malaria would be; individuals in the country and away from health care would be particularly vulnerable.
“The new research shows that history is repeating itself with parasites resistant to artemisinin drugs, the mainstay of modern malaria treatment, now widespread in Myanmar,” Prof. Mike Turner, head of infection & immunobiology at the Wellcome Trust in the UK, one of the study sponsors, told MNT. “We are facing the imminent threat of resistance spreading into India, with thousands of lives at risk.”
Turner speaks of a similar malaria event that occurred 50 years ago when a chloroquine-resistant form of malaria emerged in Asia and then spread from Myanmar to India and the rest of the world, claiming millions of lives.
Malaria is a mosquito-borne disease caused by a parasite called Plasmodium. The World Health Organization (WHO) indicates primary control methods for malaria include: prompt and effective treatment with artemisinin-based combination therapies; use of insecticidal nets by people at risk; and indoor residual spraying with insecticide to control the vector mosquitoes.
With more than half of the global population at-risk for malaria, artemisinin is widely use; however the use of artemisinin is why malaria has become resistant to it.
“When treated with an oral artemisinin-based monotherapy, patients may discontinue treatment prematurely following the rapid disappearance of malaria symptoms,” state materials from WHO.
“This results in incomplete treatment, and such patients still have persistent parasites in their blood. Without a second drug given as part of a combination (as is provided with an ACT), these resistant parasites survive and can be passed on to a mosquito and then another person.”
As of right now, experts indicate 10 percent of infected mosquitoes in East and North of Myanmar are of the resistant type.
Current control strategies revolve around real-time mapping of the malaria spread as well as efficient reporting among the international community. Regions experiencing resistant malaria–or neighboring areas with the resistant strain–can be made aware in enough time to review current treatment policies and medication dosages.