Ricardo Moraes/AP
An employee of Fundacao Oswaldo Cruz
shows two bottles of ASMQ, a new
potentially cheap and effective malaria
treatment in Rio de Janeiro.

Malaria Showing Signs of Resistance to Drugs

January 29, 2009 11:02 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Experts worry that a new form of drug-resistant malaria could sweep the globe, as the malaria parasite becomes immune to the best treatment on the market.

Studies Find Malaria Treatments Weakening

Several studies suggest that combination treatments using Artimisinin, the newest antimalarial drug, is losing its strength. The New England Journal of Medicine documented in its December issue evidence of artemisinin-resistant forms of the disease in Western Cambodia near the country’s border with Thailand.

The drug, which is derived from a Chinese herb, has failed in two known cases so far and is now taking longer to remove the malaria parasite from the bloodstream, reports The New York Times.

Experts warn that the situation echoes the decline of the drug chloroquine in the same area decades ago. Previously the best treatment against the deadliest strain of the disease, it became virtually insolvent as the disease’s resistance to the drug spread to all parts of the world. Health authorities told the Times that it is particularly troubling that there are no new drugs to replace artemisinin-based combinations if its resistance spreads.

But the news about malaria is not all gloomy. “This is not the death knell of artemisinin,” said Dr. Nicholas White, a malaria expert who chairs a joint research program between Oxford University and Mahidol University in Thailand, to The New York Times. “The drug still works in Cambodia, maybe not as well as before.”

And recent news reports indicate some positive developments in malaria treatment. The medical journal The Lancet says in its February issue that “substantial progress” has been made in malaria research, according to experts, who note that trials of a new malaria vaccine candidate developed by British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline are ready to go ahead with a third phase.

Last year, an early large-scale trial of the vaccine, which involved about 16,000 African children in Burkina Faso, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania, was hailed as the “largest such trial ever.”
Reuters reported this week that the Swiss drugmaker Novartis is releasing a new antimalaria drug, Coartem, that can be dispersed in water to make it easier to administer to young children.

Xinhua reports that malaria cases and deaths declined in Cambodia overall last year, by 8.5 percent and 25 percent, according to the National Malaria Center, which reported that the number of cases fell to 59,840 from 54,784 in 2007, and the number of deaths was 184 from 241. Experts attribute the improvement to early diagnosis and treatment, improved health education in rural areas, and the widespread distribution of mosquito nets treated with insecticide.

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Related Topic: Drug-resistant disease

Researchers have struggled with growing resistance to drugs for other illnesses. In December, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned in a Dec. 19 health advisory that a flu strain spreading through the U.S. was becoming resistant to the popular drug Tamiflu. According to Reuters, three strains of flu are common in a normal flu season: H1N1, H3N2 and influenza B. The H1N1 strain prompted the advisory.

Last year, researchers made a breakthrough with the discovery of new antibacterial compounds that could help fight against antibiotic-resistant pathogens such as tuberculosis strains. Scientists hope that naturally-occurring antibacterial compounds can help produce new antibiotics to combat drug-resistant strains of illnesses.

Reference: Malaria


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