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WHO starts program to fight new strain of malaria


by Joseph Earnest April 25, 2013  

Newscast Media WASHINGTONThe WHO has announced the launch of an emergency program to tackle a strain of malaria in Southeast Asia that has proven resistant to artemisinin, the world's most important anti-malarial drug.

The program, which will cost $400 million, is designed to contain and one day eliminate what the World Health Organization (WHO) warns could prove "a serious global health threat."

That threat comes in the form of the falciparum malaria parasite. In recent years a strain of falciparum has shown resistance to artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT). That is important because ACT, in which artemisinin is combined with one of a number of other anti-malarial drugs, is at the heart of global wins over malaria over the past decade or so.

"If resistance to artemisinin emerges elsewhere - particularly in Africa, which has the world's greatest number of malaria cases - the consequences for global health could be incalculable," says Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO's regional director for the Western Pacific.

Dr. Robert Newman, the director of the WHO's Global Malaria Programme, says that if the resistant falciparum strain were to escape the region - and currently it has been found in four countries - it could reverse the gains made worldwide against malaria.

"If history is any guide [and] if we were not to contain this problem, then it is very likely to spread elsewhere," Newman says. "Especially risky is sub-Saharan Africa where the greatest [malaria] burden still exists. And if we were to lose the efficacy of the ACTs today, this really would be a public health catastrophe in Africa."

As Newman points out, history has shown what can happen: in the 1950s, a strain of malaria resistant to the drug chloroquine emerged in Cambodia and spread across the world. The chloroquine-resistant strain of malaria still kills hundreds of thousands of people a year, most of them children in Africa.

Measures to prevent infection include teaching people how to avoid contracting it, providing hundreds of thousands of insecticide-treated bed nets, and spraying for mosquitoes. Efforts on the treatment side saw two people in every at-risk village trained to test residents for malaria and to provide free treatment to those who were infected.    Add Comments>>

 Source: Radio Deutsche Welle










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