By Ebuka Onyeji
Malaria parasites resistant to key drugs, which were identified in parts of Asia, now has “terrifying prospect” of spreading to Africa, new findings suggest.
The BBC reported Tuesday how the drug-resistant parasite is rapidly spreading in South East Asia, according to researchers from the UK and Thailand.
The parasites have moved from Cambodia to Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam, where half of the patients are not being cured by first-choice drugs.
Malaria is treated with a combination of two drugs – artemisinin and piperaquine.
But by 2013, the first cases of the parasite mutating and developing resistance to both drugs were detected.
The latest study, published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases, which analysed blood samples from patients across South East Asia, showed that resistance is spreading rapidly, picking up mutations which have made it even more problematic.
“This strain has spread and has become worse,” Roberto Amato, from the Wellcome Sanger Institute, told BBC News.
Malaria is one of the most endemic diseases in the world, claiming over 400,000 babies and thousands of pregnant women.
It continues to be a major public health problem in Nigeria and 97 other countries in the tropics and subtropics.
Nigeria has the world’s greatest malaria burden, with approximately 51 million cases and 207,000 deaths reported annually. The country bears 30 per cent of the total malaria burden in Africa.
Despite funds and concerted efforts towards the fight against malaria, Nigeria is yet to tackle 50 per cent of the problem posed by malaria, a disease threatening 97 per cent of its population.
This devastating disease affects the country’s economic productivity, resulting in an estimated loss of approximately N132 billion in treatment costs, prevention, and other indirect costs.