| HONG KONG, April 6
HONG KONG, April 6 A malaria strain increasingly
resistant to the most effective drug used to treat the disease
has spread along the Thai-Myanmar border, a 10-year study
published in The Lancet medical journal found, and may reach
India and Africa unless ways are found to contain it.
The findings in the U.K.-based publication released on
Friday observed that patients at malaria clinics took longer to
get better when treated with combination therapies containing
artemisinin - a drug derived from the sweet wormwood shrub and
which is recognised as the best drug against malaria, according
to one of the authors.
"The malaria strains that are resistant to artemisinin are
definitely found in the western border of Thailand and eastern
Myanmar," said Professor Nicholas White at the Mahidol Oxford
Tropical Medicine Research Unit, Faculty of Tropical Medicine,
Mahidol University, in Bangkok, Thailand, and Centre for
Tropical Medicine, University of Oxford.
"The implications are that they either spread or emerged
newly there," White told Reuters by telephone.
The spread of drug-resistant malaria has been blamed on the
incorrect use of artemisinin and fake and substandard versions
of the drug. Stronger action was needed from governments and
international health agencies to stop all that, White said.
"We need considerable support for Myanmar, leadership,
better intelligence on where (drug-resistant malaria) is
spreading ... it's like fighting a war," White said.
"We need serious financial support to contain it in this
region, otherwise it is going to spread to India and Africa
where more people can be affected."
White and his colleagues do not know if this malaria strain
that is now spreading in Myanmar is linked to the one that
emerged in Cambodia eight years ago, and they will analyse their
genes next to see if they are related.
"We will be able to get a clearer answer to that within the
next year by looking at the full genome ... (to tell) whether
they have the same origin or not," White said.
White and his team studied 3,202 patients between 2001 and
2010 who were infected by the Plasmodium falciparum, a species
of malaria that can cause severe disease. They found that the
standard treatment containing artemisinin took significantly
longer to clear the parasites from their bodies.
"None of the patients died, but the drugs (were) not working
as well as they did before," White said.
"If you have life-threatening malaria, the best treatment is
artesunate (derivative of artemisinin) - the treatment of choice
throughout the world. Compared with quinine, it reduces death by
a-third. We could lose that advantage," White said.
Malaria is caused by the parasite Plasmodium transmitted
through the bites of infected mosquitoes. Symptoms include
fever, headache and vomitting. If not treated, it can kill by
disrupting blood supply to vital organs.
It killed an estimated 655,000 people in 2010, or 1,794 each
day, mostly African children.
(Reporting by Tan Ee Lyn; Editing by Ed Lane)