Drug Resistant Malaria is Getting Worse

The Thai-Cambodian border is the epicenter for new malaria strains. It’s the result of poorly regulated pharmaceutical sales, an early switch to artemisinin-based drugs, and a landscape that breeds plenty of mosquitoes. The region is consistently first to be hit by new forms of drug resistant malaria, and serves as advance warning for the rest of the world. New forms may start out in Cambodia, but they spread fast.

So, the new malaria strain that has been discovered in a Cambodian village is bad news. First identified in January this year, the new strain was showing resistance to artemisinin combination therapy. It was still killing malaria parasites, but it was taking longer for the combo drugs to kill it.

Now, almost a year later, the situation has gotten worse. Artemisinin combination therapy has continued to lose effectiveness. A malaria expert in Bangkok, Dr. Nick White, is quoted in a new AP article as saying that “This is not business as usual. It’s something really special and it needs a real concerted effort,” and that virtually every case of malaria he sees in Western Cambodia is resistant to drugs.

Resistant malaria isn’t going to stop in Western Cambodia. Malaria parasites still respond to new drug regimens. We need new malaria combination treatments, and we need their use to be strictly enforced. This is not an easy thing to do, but the alternative is a planet with malaria rates like we saw in the 1700s. More deaths, and more geographic prevalence in our warmer planet.


Image: Flickr