mosquitoFor some time now there has been talk of Drug Resistant Malaria strains that are growing resistant to treatment drugs. This talk has lately been focused on Myanmar, a sovereign state in Southeast Asia.

In Myanmar doctors and scientists are seeing strains of malaria that are growing resistant to artemisinin, the most effective malarial drug that we have developed. Samantha Michaels, of the news magazine Irrawaddy, recently wrote that “today, the wonder drug, known as artemisinin, is taking longer to clear the parasites from the blood of infected people.” It is obviously a frightening trend to see, this resistance to the so-called “wonder drug.” But it would be another thing entirely if the drug completely stopped being effective against the parasite, a fear that has lately been rising.

What Causes Resistance and Drug Resistant Malaria

There are many factors that contribute to a parasite’s resistance to a particular drug. Fake or weak malaria drugs, such as the 30% of the malaria drugs tested globally, as identified by the WorldWide Antimalarial Resistance Network, can lead to resistant malaria strains. Failure to complete full medication regimens is also a leading cause of drug-resistant malaria strains. A recent study conducted by Harvard and Innovations for Poverty Actions (IPA) found this to be a very common trend among patients. Often this is simply because patients forget to stick to the regimen for the entirety of its length, though sometimes they intentionally cease taking the medication when they begin to feel better.

Spontaneous mutations within the parasite itself can often be enough for the parasite to begin to establish resilience to that particular drug. Peter B. Bloland, in his report for the World Health Organization, noted that “over time, resistance becomes established in the population and can be very stable, persisting long after specific drug pressure is removed.” Furthermore, he stated that “antimalarial drug resistance has emerged as one of the greatest challenges facing malaria control today.’

The World Health Organization recognizes these increasing threats. “Fighting the threat of artemisinin resistance requires an urgent and coordinated international response, as well as robust and predictable financing” (WHO).

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