‘African regions not yet affected by malaria drug resistance’

malaria-2Despite suggestions that the malaria parasite is becoming resistant to the drug-of-choice, Arteminisin-based Combination Therapy (ACT) in Nigeria, a new study has shown that Africa is not yet affected, but there is still a high probability that the phenomenon will spread to the region based on a genetic mutation.

A map of the ACT resistance published yesterday in the journal, New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) by an international research group from more than 50 countries showed that more and more malaria parasites are becoming resistant to the treatment of choice especially in South-East Asia.

However, the research group led by the Pasteur Institute in Phnom Penh (Cambodia), Harald Noedl and Michael Ramharter, MedUni Vienna and VetMedUni Vienna (Hans-Peter Fuehrer) noted: “Currently artemesinin resistance is exclusively concentrated on South-East Asia; African regions are not yet affected.”

With the emphasis on “Not yet,” say the MedUni Vienna researchers. However, for years now the greatest threat when it comes to malaria has been that a resistant pathogen develops in Africa and then spreads.

Ramharter said: “The descendants of these parasites are like clones. If one becomes resistant, they may spread and be transmitted further.”
The group, however, said there is still a high probability that resistance will spread to Africa, because it is based on a genetic mutation – as has been shown in previous studies.

Scientists examined a total of 14,000 samples, including around 700 from the research areas of Michael Ramharter (University Department of Medicine I, Division of Infectious Diseases and Tropical Medicine) in Gabon and Harald Noedl (Institute for Specific Prophylaxis and Tropical Medicine) in Bangladesh and Ethiopia.

It is one of the largest international and cross-disciplinary projects in the history of malaria research.Until now, practically all currently available treatments for malaria are based in some form or other on a derivative of artemisinin, a plant substance that is found in the leaves and flowers of annual mugwort (Artemisia annua).

Noedl explained: “If someone is meant to take the medication for three days but stops after one or two days, because the symptoms have subsided and he/she feels better, then some of the pathogens will inevitably survive. This is the context in which resistance develops.”

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