Drug-resistant malaria presents 'huge threat'

Feb 20, 2015, 3:19 AM EST
An Indian pathologist checks a blood samples smear before malaria testing at the King Edward Memorial hospital in Mumbai on August 4, 2010.
AFP/Getty Images

Drug-resistant malaria has been detected at the Myanmar-India border and now poses an "enormous threat" to global health, scientists have said, according to the BBC.

The ability of the malaria parasite to shrug off the effects of artemisinin has been spreading since it emerged in South East Asia.

Tests, published in Lancet Infectious Diseases, now show this resistance on the verge of entering India. Experts said the development was "alarming". Deaths from malaria have nearly halved since 2000, and the infection now kills about 584,000 people each year.

One of the researchers, Dr. Charles Woodrow, from the Mahidol-Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit, in Thailand, told the BBC: "We can see artemisinin resistance is clearly present quite close to the Indian border, that's clearly a threat and in the future is likely to lead to extension of the problem to neighbouring areas."

Initially the other drug will pick up the slack to keep the combination effective, but Woodrow says this resistance will "inevitably" lead to it failing.

"If this were to spread into India, malaria will continue to affect rural populations there, but there may not be an immediate effect on cure-rate," he said. "But beyond the short term, there is very likely to be a problem, and there are very few [other] drugs on the table."