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Surprising Science

Drug-Resistant Malaria Gaining Ground

A drug-resistant strain of malaria first noticed in Cambodia in 2005 is increasingly seen in other parts of Asia. Experts worry it could spread to Africa, where a majority of malaria exists. 

What’s the Latest Development?

A drug-resistant strain of malaria first noticed by scientists in Cambodia in 2005 has made its way to border of Thailand, suggesting the disease will continue to spread. The strain has achieved a certain immunity against the most effective anti-malaria treatment known as sweet wormwood, a derivative of the Chinese plant Artemisia annua. “Over the nine years between 2001 and 2010, [researchers at the Shoklo Malaria Research Unit] found that drugs became less effective and the number of patients showing resistance rose to 20%.” 

What’s the Big Idea?

Researchers are especially worried that the resistant parasite might spread to sub-Saharan Africa, where a majority of the world’s malaria cases exist. It remains unclear whether mosquitoes have carried the disease into Thailand or if the drug-resistant strain emerged spontaneously. “Either the resistance has moved and it will continue to move and will eventually reach Africa. Or if it has emerged, now that artemisinin is the standard therapy worldwide then it means it could emerge anywhere,” said Professor Francois Nosten, who has worked on the latest research. 

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