In DepthGlobal Health

Drug-resistant malaria advances in Mekong

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Science  13 Oct 2017:
Vol. 358, Issue 6360, pp. 155-156
DOI: 10.1126/science.358.6360.155

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Some malaria researchers say their worst fears are coming true. A malaria parasite resistant to resistant to a first-line artemisinin combination therapy has rapidly made its way in an arc from western Cambodia, through northeastern Thailand, to southern Laos; now, it has landed in southern Vietnam, where it is causing alarming rates of treatment failure. That's not only bad news for the Greater Mekong subregion, the researchers say, but should this bug spread to Africa, where more than 90% of malaria deaths occur, the consequences could be disastrous. There's good reason to be alarmed, a team from the Mahidol Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit in Bangkok writes in the October issue of The Lancet Infectious Diseases: Resistance to the earlier malaria drug chloroquine started in Cambodia before spreading to Africa in the 1980s, causing millions of deaths. But the letter—which triggered media stories warning of a "superbug" on the loose—irked many in the famously contentious malaria research community, where personal animosities and long-standing grudges run deep. Experts at the World Health Organization (WHO) denounced what they see as overblown claims from a group that they say has cried wolf before. "Parasite resistance to antimalarial medicines is a serious problem. But we must not create unnecessary alarm," said Pedro Alonso, the head of WHO's Global Malaria Programme.