Friday, November 02, 2012

Treatment for a drug resistant strain of malaria could be years away

A new strain of drug resistant malaria is growing in Thailand and Myanmar. As of yet, there are no new drugs developed to treat this strain. It might take years for scientists to develop the new treatment. The development might take even longer because there is still no new funding available for research.

From Reuters Alert Net, we learn more about this gap in combating malaria. 
The strain is resistant to the most effective malaria drug available to doctors – artemisinin. Experts say it has spread because of the incorrect use of artemisinin and fake and substandard versions of the drug.
Doctors have little alternative to artemisinin and it would take years to develop a new malaria drug. They’re worried that if the drug-resistant strain goes unchecked it will spread to Africa where the majority of malaria cases and deaths occur.
Malaria killed 655,000 people in 2010, 90 percent of them in Africa, the majority children.
In the 1970s and 1980s, strains of malaria that were resistant to previous generations of medicines, such as chloroquine, originated in Cambodia and spread to Africa via Myanmar and India.
The first cases of confirmed artemisinin resistance were found in the late 2000s in western Cambodia along the Cambodia-Thailand border. They have since been reported in Thailand, Myanmar and Vietnam.
“If we don’t care about (this resistance), what will happen is what happened with the chloroquine resistance – more cases, more deaths … We don’t have any products to replace artemisinin,” Fatoumata Nafo-Traore, executive director of Roll Back Malaria, a partnership of U.N. agencies, the World Bank, leading drugmakers and aid experts, said.
“What needs to be done is to say, ‘Now we have a small window of opportunity to contain it and let’s contain it’,” said Nafo-Traore, who was in Thailand prior to the Malaria 2012 summit in Sydney which began on Oct. 31.
One of the main challenges is funding.  
Frank Smithuis, a doctor who’s worked in Myanmar since 1994, criticised donors in an earlier interview with AlertNet, saying Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam were included in malaria containment programmes but not Myanmar, despite it having the highest malaria burden in the Greater Mekong region.
Donors have traditionally been reluctant to fund programmes in Myanmar for fear of propping up the previous military regime, which ruled for five decades. But a military-backed reformist government which took over last year is generating more goodwill.

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