Malaria has plagued the Third World for as long as the disease has been recorded. It kills over 600,000 people annually, mostly in Africa. While medicine has been able to curb the disease’s spread, new medical research seems to have discovered, in Myanmar, a strain of the infection which is resistant to artemisinin, the most popular medicine used to fight malaria.
“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 Charles Woodrow, an author of the paper outlining the new research, published in the Lancet Infectious Diseases Journal. “With artemisinins we are in the unusual position of having molecular markers for resistance before resistance has spread globally. The more we understand about the current situation in the border regions, the better prepared we are to adapt and implement strategies to overcome the spread of further drug resistance.”
The worrying data was retrieved from 940 infected blood samples taken across the country of Myanmar. A shocking 39% of samples showed genetic mutations in the disease’s composition that point to artemisinin resistance. The resistance might have grown over time, as a result of possible overuse.
“We were able to gather patient samples rapidly across Myanmar – sometimes using discarded malaria blood diagnostic tests – and then test these immediately for the K13 marker, and so generate real-time information on the spread of resistance” added coauthor Mallika Imwong from Bangkok’s Mahidol University.
If the new strain of malaria should elude medical control in Myanmar and spread across southern Asia, the implications would be major and catastrophic. Doctors will use the geographic distribution of the new data to try and prevent such a spread.
“We need a more vigorous international effort to address this issue in border regions,” added study coauthor Philippe Guerin from the Worldwide Antimalarial Resistance Network (WWARN).