Winning the fight against malaria could be even more difficult in the upcoming days as scientists have reported the presence of a new strain of malaria parasite which is resistant to the antimalarial drug used presently. The strain has spread across Myanmar and has reached closer to the Indian border. The strain is completely resistant to the antimalarial drug artemisinin, which is currently used to treat malaria. According to the scientists, if the drug resistant parasites reach India, there will be a serious threat to the chances of global control and eradication of this mosquito borne disease. However, if the strain spreads from Asia to Africa, or if it emerged independently in Africa, millions of lives will be at risk.
Charles Woodrow of the Mahidol-Oxford tropical medicine research unit, who led the study at Oxford University, said “Myanmar is considered the front line in the battle against artemisinin resistance as it forms a gateway for resistance to spread to the rest of the world.” The report has been published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases journal. For the study, 940 parasite samples at 55 malaria treatment centers across Myanmar and its border regions were collected by Woodrow’s team. Mutations were found in almost 40 percent of the samples. Scientists detected the mutations in the so-called kelch gene, K13, which is a known genetic signal of artemisinin drug resistance.
Resistant parasites have also been reported in Homalin, in the Sagaing Region, situated only 25 kilometers away from Indian border. Although the number of people getting infected with and dying of malaria has reduced over time, the disease still claims about 600,000 lives every year and most of them are children belonging to the poorest parts of sub-Saharan Africa. Philippe Guerin, director of the Worldwide Antimalarial Resistance Network stated “The pace at which artemisinin resistance is spreading or emerging is alarming.” Woodrow added “The more we understand about the current situation… the better prepared we are to adapt and implement strategies to overcome the spread of further drug resistance.”