February 26, 2009

Drug Resistant Malaria Emerges

A disease once thought to be somewhat under control with the use of prescription drugs is emerging at the Thai-Cambodian border as drug resistant.

The World Health Organization said Wednesday the new strain of malaria could "seriously undermine" efforts to bring the disease under control.

"Surveillance systems and research studies... are providing new evidence that parasites resistant to artemisinin have emerged along the border between Cambodia and Thailand where workers walk for miles every day to clear forests," said the WHO in a statement.

"The risk that they may be infected with a drug-resistant form of malaria could set back recent successes to control the disease," it said.

Recently, artemisinin-based medication has been largely credited for improving recovery rates from the mosquito-transmitted disease.

It's estimated that Malaria kills one million people a year.

Experts thought of artemisinin-based medication as a replacement for older drugs that were quickly becoming useless as the malaria parasite developed resistance to them.

"If we do not put a stop to the drug-resistant malaria situation that has been documented in the Thai-Cambodian border, it could spread rapidly to neighboring countries and threaten our efforts to control this deadly disease," said WHO Assistant Director-General Hiroki Nakatani.

The Gates Foundation gave the WHO a 22.5-million-dollar grant to find ways of containing the resistant strains of malaria.

Several years ago at the Thai-Cambodian border, strains of malaria resistant to drugs such as mefloquine and sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine also emerged.


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