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Malaria Parasite Now Resistant to Artemisinin and Artesunate Combinations

A new research published in New England Journal of Medicine found that malaria parasite is now resistant to Artemisinin Combination Therapies (ACTs). ACTs is the standard malaria drug approved by the World Health Organization (WHO) for the effective treatment of malaria around the world.

ACTs is the malaria drug that is a combination of artemisinin and artesunate or other partner drugs. It is also the major drug used to treat malaria infection in Africa – which accounts for 90% of malaria cases in the world.

In a 2015 to 2019 study conducted in Uganda, researchers found that malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum has undergone genetic mutations in nearly 20% of people infected with the mosquito-causing illness.

In the 240 people recruited for the study, the researchers found that artesunate – derived from artemisinin – took longer to clear the parasite load of malaria in the blood of 14 research participants.

According to health experts, an intravenous administration of artesunate should remove malaria parasite entirely from the bloodstream in two hours, but it took longer than five hours to remove half of the parasites in the 14 people.

Although malaria parasites that are resistant to drugs have been reported in Cambodia, the same has also been reported in Rwanda. Nicholas White of Mahidol University in Thailand said additional drugs must be added to strengthen artemisinin against malaria resistance.

“Health officials in East Africa should begin looking at strategies to contain artemisinin resistance, such as including additional partner drugs or using two different ACTs to treat malaria patients,” White stated.

A biochemist at the University of Melbourne in Australia, Prof. Leann Tilley, said “we’ve all been expecting and dreading this [drug resistance] for quite some time.” And head of malaria research at Mahidol Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit in Bangkok, Arjen Dondorp, said that “it is certainly a disturbing finding, because we rely completely on these artemisinin-combination therapies.”