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Scientists Warn Against Malaria Control, Treatment Failure

Nov 6, 2009, 12:17 PM | Article By: Pa Momodou Faal in Nairobi

Scientists attending the fifth Multilateral Initiative on Malaria conference currently underway in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, yesterday warned that failure to provide frontline tools for malaria control and treatment could leave millions of people vulnerable to the scourge with little recourse for prevention or effective treatment.

They called on researchers and policy-makers to act fast to contain the new challenge of malaria drug and insecticide resistance which has already been noticed in some countries.

The experts warned further that if no action is urgently taken by governments, especially in Africa to stem this worrying trend, all the gains achieved in the past five years would automatically reverse.

"Malaria parasite constantly evolves to become resistant to malaria drugs and insecticides, and to stay ahead of the deadly parasite there is need also to redouble efforts to develop new classes of effective medicine so that when current frontline intervention eventually fail, the world is not caught unawares," scientists said during a press conference.  

Findings from recent studies indicate that artemisinin, the most effective frontline drug against malaria in the world is gradually developing resistance. The drug recommended as frontline therapy by the WHO in 2002 had saved millions of lives but emerging resistance has been noticed in some malaria patients.

Studies also published in 2008-2009 reported a doubling of the time to clear the parasite from the blood of some malaria patients in the western region of Cambodia.

However, scientists added that efficacy at 28 days was maintained and the patients were still cured with the ACT's they were given.

Although first observed in west Cambodia, this resistance has now also been reported in the west of Thailand and in Eastern Myanmar. 

"It's not very clear whether this additional resistance is due to the Cambodian strains or other strains but a new ACT code named DHA/PQP has been developed by Sigma Tau and Medicines for Malaria Venture and already submitted to the European Agency and will soon go to the regulatory authorities of Cambodia in readiness for use to contain the strains resistant to artemisinin, if requested by WHO and the government of Cambodia," scientists said.

Researchers believe that today bed nets and indoor residual spraying are the cornerstones of malaria control having saved millions of lives, yet they are entirely dependent on mosquito populations remaining susceptible to insecticides.

They noted that new insecticides that work in an entirely different way to the current classes is urgently needed to ensure that the expansion of control efforts does not result in a total failure of one of the only weapons available against mosquitoes.