News / Health

    Drug-Resistant Malaria Spreading in Southeast Asia

    FILE - A malaria patient is comforted in the only hospital in Pailin, Cambodia.
    FILE - A malaria patient is comforted in the only hospital in Pailin, Cambodia.

    From Vietnam to Burma, the leading drug against malaria is losing potency, according to a new study in the New England Journal of Medicine.

    On the plus side, the same issue of the journal reports that a new antimalarial drug looks promising in an early test.

    Artemisinin-based drugs have helped make dramatic gains against malaria worldwide.

    “If we lose this class of drugs, it’s really going to be a global health catastrophe,” said Dr. Chris Plowe at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. “There’s nothing on the shelf that’s ready to replace those.”

    Resistance on the move

    Plowe and colleagues studied resistance rates in seven Asian and three African countries. The worst problems were along the Thailand-Cambodia border, where the first artemisinin drug failures were reported. But they found significant resistance from southern Vietnam to central Burma.

    The fact that it’s on the move in Southeast Asia “speaks to the possibility that from there it can jump into Africa, which is the big concern, ultimately,” said Columbia University microbiologist David Fidock, who was not involved in the research.

    That’s what happened with resistance to previous malaria drugs, and it cost countless lives.

    Resistance hotspot

    In fact, Plowe said that part of the world has proved to be a drug-resistant malaria hotspot.

    “It’s happened again and again, with at least four different antimalarial drugs, where resistant parasites popped up along the border between Thailand and Cambodia,” he said.

    It’s not clear why. It could be the quality of the drugs available, or how they are taken. Plowe doubts that, though, considering that both are issues elsewhere, too.

    Or it may be something to do the genetics of the parasite. Researchers are looking into that, too.

    Good news

    The good news is Plowe’s group did not find artemisinin resistance in Africa. And the drugs still work, although they take longer.

    But he adds, “We don’t have very much time with the artemisinins based on the rate at which resistance appears to be emerging and spreading.”

    In another study in the same issue of The New England Journal of Medicine, the pharmaceutical company Novartis reports its new drug spiroindolone quickly rid 21 patients of malaria parasites.

    It is on track to be the first to take over when the artemisinin drugs fail.

    “It’s very early days,” Plowe cautions. “This is a very small study. But the initial news is pretty good.”

    Fidock notes, however, that the drug’s target is known to mutate quickly.

    “It’s already to some degree susceptible to resistance,” he said.

    Spiroindolone would be combined with at least one other drug to slow down resistance.

    And other drugs are in the pipeline, racing to be ready for the day when artemisinin fails.

     

     


    Steve Baragona

    Steve Baragona is an award-winning multimedia journalist covering science, environment and health.

    He spent eight years in molecular biology and infectious disease research before deciding that writing about science was more fun than doing it. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a master’s degree in journalism in 2002.

    You May Like

    Escalation of Media Crackdown in Turkey Heightens Concerns

    Critics see 'a new dark age' as arrests of journalists, closures of media outlets by Erdogan government mount

    Russia Boasts of Troop Buildup on Flank, Draws Flak

    Russian military moves counter to efforts to de-escalate tensions, State Department says

    Video Iraqis Primed to March on Mosul, Foreign Minister Says

    Iraqi FM Ibrahim al-Jaafari tells VOA the campaign will meet optimistic expectations, even though US officials remain cautious

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Processi
    X
    Katherine Gypson
    July 27, 2016 6:21 PM
    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video A Life of Fighting Back: Hillary Clinton Shatters Glass Ceiling

    Hillary Clinton made history Thursday, overcoming personal and political setbacks to become the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. If she wins in November, she will go from “first lady” to U.S. Senator from New York, to Secretary of State, to “Madam President.” Polls show Clinton is both beloved and despised. White House Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the life of the woman both supporters and detractors agree is a fighter for the ages.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video First Time Delegate’s First Day Frustrations

    With thousands of people filling the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh narrowed in on one delegate as she made her first trip to a national party convention. It was a day that was anything but routine for this United States military veteran.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora