Resistance to Anti-Malaria Drug On Thailand-Myanmar Border Could Have Global Ramifications

Malaria is one of the most historically devastating diseases this world has ever seen. Recent advancements and developments in the medical field have helped to bring the deadly parasitic condition close to eradication, but a new finding has researchers concerned.

According to, resistance to two drugs widely used to treat and prevent malaria have been found to be developing in people near Thailand-Myanmar. Specifically, genetic mutations in the kelch gene are believed to causing the malaria parasite to become resistant to the drugs mefloquine and artusenate.

“This study demonstrates for the first time that artemisinin resistance leads to failure of the artemisinin partner drug, in this case, mefloquine. This means that the first-line artemisinin combination therapy introduced here in 1994 has finally fallen to resistance,” said Professor François Nosten, Director of Shoklo Malaria Research Unit (SMRU).

According to a recent study published in the journal Nature and co-authored by researchers at the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, efforts to fight malaria across the continent of Africa have cut the rate of infections in half since 2000. These positive efforts could be at-risk if this strain of resistance spreads to the African sub-continent or it naturally develops on its own there as well.

These findings are part of a ten-year study of 1,005 patients with uncomplicated Plasmodium falciparum malaria on the Thai-Myanmar border. So far, this is the only reported location where this particular resistance has developed, but the possibility of years of work towards global eradication has some of the world’s leading authorities more than a little concerned.

“The evidence is clear: Artemisinin resistance leads to partner drug resistance and thereby the failure of artemisinin combination treatments,” said Oxford Professor Nicholas White, Chairman of the Mahidol Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit (MORU) and chair of the Worldwide Antimalarial Resistance Network (WWARN). “The spread of artemisinin resistant Plasmodium falciparum is perhaps the greatest threat to our current hopes of eliminating malaria from the world.”

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