A new strain of ‘super’ malaria is presenting a “serious threat” to the world as it has spread across South East Asia, in spite of continued efforts to contain it.
Just like other types of antibiotic resistance, the disease has adapted to avoid being targeted by antimalarial drugs (artemisinin) currently being prescribed, meaning this mutated strain then cannot be killed off.
Professor Sir Nicholas White, said in an open letter for the Tropical Health Network: “We need to tackle this public health emergency urgently.”
The new form of the alarming parasite originated in Cambodia, but has now spread from ground zero to parts of Thailand, Laos, and southern Vietnam.
And is showing no signs of slowing down.
Professor Arjen Dondorp from the Mahidol-Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit, Bangkok, told the BBC that he is concerned malaria could simply become untreatable.
“We think it is a serious threat,” especially in light of recent statistics that showed drugs are now failing in a third of new cases in Vietnam and 60% of cases in Cambodia.
However, this is a drop in the ocean compared to the havoc that this new strain could cause if it is transferred outside of the region to Africa, where 92% of all malaria cases occur every year.
Dondorp described the current situation as a “race against the clock” to stop the development, which could see the World Health Organisation’s estimate of 29% mortality increase.
Approximately 212 million people get malaria every single year, but there has been a 21% global decrease in incidence between 2010 and 2015.
Michael Chew, Wellcome’s Infection and Immunobiology team, predicted: “Around 700,000 people a year die from drug-resistant infections, including malaria. If nothing is done, this could increase to millions of people every year by 2050.”
White, said: ”The spread of this malaria ‘superbug’ has caused an alarming rise in treatment failures forcing changes in drug policy and leaving few options for the future.”