Drug-resistant malaria feared on Thai-Myanmar border

* Artemisinin-resistant form first emerged in Asia in 2007

* Now suspected on Thai-Myanmar border, in Vietnam province

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA, Nov 18 (BestGrowthStock) – A form of malaria resistant to
the most powerful drugs available may have emerged along the
Thai-Myanmar border as well as Vietnam, and containment measures
are planned, the World Health Organisation said on Thursday.

Clinical trials are due to begin soon in Myanmar and if they
confirm artemisinin-resistant malaria in some patients, it means
millions living in the border area could be potentially exposed
to the longer-to-treat form, a WHO official told Reuters.

Artemisinin-resistant malaria first broke out in the Mekong
region along the Thai-Cambodian border by early 2007, raising
fears that a dangerous new form of the mosquito-borne disease
could be spreading across the globe.

“We have some early warning signals that apart from the
border of Thailand and Cambodia, we could have some problems
emerging at the border between Myanmar and Thailand and also in
one province of Vietnam,” Dr. Pascal Ringwald of the WHO’s
global malaria programme told a news briefing.

Malaria infects about 243 million people a year, causing an
estimated 863,000 deaths, making it a major killer diseases,
especially among African children.

Myanmar authorities are holding a meeting on a proposed
strategy to contain its spread in the military-ruled country,
expected in December or January. Vietnam also wants help to
contain suspect cases in its Binh Phouc province, Ringwald said.

Insecticide-treated mosquito nets would be distributed so
people can protect themselves while sleeping or at work in the
forests, and free screening and treatment would be offered.

A similar plan used along the Thai-Cambodian border to
protect 4 million people, including seasonal rubber workers, led
to a “drastic reduction” in cases, according to Ringwald.

Artemisinin, derived from the sweet wormwood, or Artemisia
annua plant, is the best drug available against malaria,
especially when used in artemisinin combination therapy (ACT),
which combines it with other drugs that finish off the parasite.

Swiss drugmaker Novartis (NOVN.VX: ) and Sanofi-Aventis
(SASY.PA: ) of France make the most widely-used ACTs, expected to
treat 80 million and 50 million patients, respectively this
year, said Tim Wells of the Medicines for Malaria Venture.

(Editing by Peter Graff)

Drug-resistant malaria feared on Thai-Myanmar border