Specialist malaria drugs are proving less effective against malaria parasites, as the disease spreads throughout South-East Asia.
According to research recently published in the Lancet, resistant parasites have moved from Cambodia to Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. The report states that half of malaria patients in these countries are not responding to first-choice drugs aimed at curing them from the disease.
Researchers from the United Kingdom and Thailand have labelled their findings as a “terrifying prospect” with fears the drug-resistance could spread to the African continent.
The two-drug combination of artemisinin and piperaquine, which is what is usually used to treat malaria, was introduced in Cambodia in 2008.
The research suggests resistance has built since then to the point that the treatment is now far less effective.
Resistance was first noted in 2013, with cases coming to light of the parasite having mutated in western parts of Cambodia.
This latest study reveals just how far and how quickly the resistant parasite has spread across South-East Asia. The research analysed parasite DNA from patient blood samples across the region.
In some areas, the resistance was as high as 80 per cent of the parasites tested.
Alternative drugs can be used, and affected people can currently still be effectively treated, but the findings of this research are seen as a setback in the fight against malaria.
Progress in eliminating the mosquito-spread disease – after great progress has been made – could be threatened.
Malaria kills more than 400,000 people very year.