Health experts warn that a drug-resistant strain of malaria may soon reach India after countless efforts to keep it contained in Southeast Asia. Scientists found that the malaria parasite had developed drug resistance across more regions than previously estimated.
Malaria infection is now about to pose “enormous” health threats to the already fragile health system on the Indian subcontinent. India is not at its first drug resistance spread. It already struggles with an ever expanding antibiotic resistance.
Scientists explained that the malaria parasite had developed an increased resistance to artemisinin, the most effective drug in treating the disease. Health experts also believe that the situation is worse in Southeast Asia than in Africa because locals do not have the proper immune response to fight off malaria.
Currently, there are more than 580,000 recorded deaths from malaria worldwide, although the death rate has nearly halved since 2000. However, the efforts to contain and eradicate malaria may face serious challenges as the drug resistant strains make their way out of Southeast Asia.
Drug resistant malaria parasites were only located in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam and Myanmar, but India may soon join in the group. In Myanmar, nearly 950 people infected with malaria from 55 sites displayed resistance to artemisinin. A team of international experts tried to contain the spread within Myanmar’s borders and prevent it from reaching India.
However, researchers found traces of drug resistant strains of malaria in the Sagaing region, in Myanmar, about 15 miles (25 km) from the Indian border.
“We can see artemisinin resistance is clearly present quite close to the Indian border, that’s clearly a threat and in the future is likely to lead to extension of the problem to neighboring areas,”
Dr Charles Woodrow, a tropical disease expert from Thailand, recently told reporters.
Researchers say that it isn’t the first time this region of Asia faces a drug-resistance problem. In 1957, malaria parasites unexpectedly developed resistance to chloroquine, artemisinin’s forerunner, around the border between Thailand and Cambodia.
Seventeen years later, the spread reached Africa after affecting several other countries in its way there. As a result, the number of new malaria cases and malaria-related deaths reached new record levels.
African epidemiologists didn’t report any case of artemisinin-resistance on the Dark Continent, but they are worried that the history may repeat itself.
All in all, scientists and local authorities call for a “vigorous international effort to address this issue in border regions” before the resistance spread reaches India.
Image Source: Smithsonian Mag