Growing resistance to a key anti-malarial drug derived from a shrub used in traditional Chinese medicine is threatening to roll back gains made in combating the disease, said malaria experts at a health conference in Sydney, Australia last week.
Delegates at the Malaria 2012: Saving Lives in the Asia-Pacific conference emphasized the importance of strong political leadership and regional coordination after discussing resistance to anti-malarial drugs in the region’s fight against the disease.
“Anti-malarial drug resistance is one of the greatest challenges to continued success in controlling and eliminating malaria in the Asia-Pacific,” the Director of the Global Malaria Program of the UN World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Robert Newman, told the gathering.
The Asia-Pacific region, which includes 20 malaria-endemic countries, accounted for about 30 million of these cases, and 42,000 of the deaths. India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Myanmar, and Papua New Guinea bear the largest burden of the disease.
The declining efficiency of therapies based on artemisinin – an extract from the sweet wormwood bush and currently the frontline treatment recommended by the WHO for the most deadly species of the malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum – raises concern that resistance might spread to India and then Africa, making elimination of the disease impossible.