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Drug-Resistant Malaria 'Huge Threat' to Global Health

Strain found on Myanmar-India border will need 'vigorous effort' to be contained, researchers say

Mosquito nets have been attributed to a large decrease in malaria rates. (Photo: United Nations Development Program/flickr/cc)

Cases of drug-resistant malaria have been multiplying in Southeast Asia, particularly along the border of India and Myanmar, in what health experts are warning is a "huge threat" to global health that will require "vigorous international effort" to contain.

The strain has been found in Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar, and Vietnam, according to a report published in Lancet Infectious Diseases.

The location of the outbreak is important, Thailand-based medical researcher and report co-author Dr. Charles Woodrow told the BBC on Thursday. "[T]hat's clearly a threat and in the future is likely to lead to extension of the problem to neighboring areas," he said.

The medication in question is artemisinin, which is typically given as part of a combination therapy. Resistance to artemisinin would "inevitably" lead to its failure, Woodrow continued. "If this were to spread into India, malaria will continue to affect rural populations there, but there may not be an immediate effect on cure-rate."

The researchers found that "artemisinin resistance extends over more of southeast Asia than had previously been known, and is now present close to the border with India. This finding expands the area in which containment and elimination are needed to prevent the possibility of global spread of artemisinin resistance."

According to the World Health Organization, malaria death rates dropped by 47 percent around the world since 2000. In 2013, WHO recorded roughly 198 million malaria cases around the world, with an estimated 584,000 deaths, 90 percent of which occurred in WHO African Region.

The report concluded: "A vigorous international effort to contain this enormous threat is needed."

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