Resistance to the world’s most effective anti-malarial drug, artemisinin, is now widespread across mainland Southeast Asia, including India’s neighbourhood in Myanmar, seriously threatening global malaria control and elimination.
A study led by Oxford University researchers based in Thailand analysed blood samples from 1241 malaria patients in 10 countries across Asia and Africa, and found that artemisinin resistance in the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum is now firmly established in Western Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Eastern Myanmar and Northern Cambodia.
There are also signs of emerging resistance in Central Myanmar, Southern Laos and Northeastern Cambodia, the study found. “It may still be possible to prevent the spread of artemisinin-resistant malaria parasites across Asia and then to Africa by eliminating them, but that window of opportunity is closing fast,” says senior author Nicholas White, Professor of Tropical Medicine at the University of Oxford and Chair of the Worldwide Antimalarial Resistance Network.
“Conventional malaria control approaches won’t be enough — we will need to take more radical action and make this a global public health priority without delay,” he added.
The study was conducted by an international team, the Tracking Resistance to Artemisinin Collaboration (TRAC), and their results are published in the New England Journal of Medicine.