Malaria Drugs Misused

The VOA reports:

Roughly 50 years ago, chloroquine and other quinine-derived drugs were extremely effective in treating malaria, a disease spread by the bite of mosquitos infected with the parasite, Plasmodium falciparum.

The illness causes extremely high fevers, bouts of chills, jaundice and severe anemia. Young children who contract malaria often die.

Chloroquine and mefloquine have since become ineffective against the parasite because of the misuse of chloroquine, but in the last decade or so, an effective, new drug [long used in China], called artemisinin, has come into use.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has urged countries to use artemisinin in combination with other anti-malarials so it, too, does not lose its effectiveness.

But the warning isn’t being heeded, and a study published this week in the journal the Lancet found the first evidence of resistance to artemisinin in two African countries where the drug is readily available, according to researcher Ramon Jambou of the Pasteur Institute.

“In Senegal and in French Guiana, artemisinin was not used by the ministry. It just used by everyone but on markets and so on,” he explained.

Dr. Jambou and colleagues took blood samples from 530 patients in French Guiana, Senegal and Cambodia treated with different artemisinin-derived drugs. The samples were tested to measure the parasite’s sensitivity to artemisinin.

The researchers found no resistance in samples taken from Cambodia, which carefully controls the use of the drug. The parasite was less sensitive to the drug in Senegal, where artemisinin is somewhat restricted. Resistance to the drug was greatest in French Guiana, where it is readily available.

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