Malaria parasites have begun resisting the some of the newest drugs released to protect against the disease.
Health scientists from the Mahidol-Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit in London have revealed that a study in western Cambodia found that parasites are increasingly resistant to the artemesinin family of drugs. Artemesinin drugs like coartem, are the world's frontline defence against malaria.
British and American research teams carrying out separate clinical trials in Cambodia found that instead of taking just two or three days to clear malaria parasites from blood, the drugs are now taking up to five days.
Professor Nick Day of the Mahidol-Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit, said similar early warning signs had been seen in the region before two earlier drugs, chloroquine and sulphadoxine pyrimethamine. The failure of chloroquine led to major loss of life in Africa.
In a statement widely released to the media yesterday, the scientists called for urgent action to contain the drug resistant parasites before the new strain is spread by mosquitoes. They warn that if the drug-resistant parasites spread, it will endanger millions of lives because about half the world's population living in areas where the disease can thrive.
It is thought the trend in Cambodia may be connected with weak controls on anti-malaria drugs which allow criminals to market fake medications.
To fool tests, the fakes may contain a trace of the real drug. This can help to build up resistance.
Despite this news, researchers are continuing to find more effective ways to combat malaria, particularly in Africa where it kills 300,000 people every day.
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