Researchers in Rwanda, Africa have identified a strain of the malaria parasite P. falciparum with mutations on a gene known as K13 that enables resistance to artemisinin. The foundation of artemisinin-based combination therapies(ACTs), the most commonly used malaria treatments.
Malaria was discovered in the late 19th century. It is caused by infection with protozoan parasites belonging the genus Plasmodium transmitted by female Anopheles mosquitoes.
Once the parasites are inside the body, they travel to the liver ,where they mature. After several days the mature parasites enter the bloodstream and begin to infect red blood cells.
Malaria is typically found in Tropical and subtropical climates where the parasites can live. Www.who.int states that in 2016, there were an estimated 216 million cases of malaria in 91 countries.
P. falciparum, one of the malaria parasites that can infect humans causes a more severe form of the disease. Those who contract this form of malaria have a higher risk of death. An infected mother can also pass the disease to her baby at birth. This is known as congenital malaria.
This parasites mutate rapidly to become resistant to drug treatments. Global malaria deaths declined to 409,000 in 2019, compared to 585,000 in 2010. However, Africa faces a new threat following the new discovery. We can all take part in ensuring this threat does not see the light of day.
Dealing with Malaria Threat
Ensure that providers and patients use malaria drugs effectively
Governments and global health organizations need to reinforce effective, safe prescribing and appropriate use of ACTS. When providers don’t prescribe treatments correctly or their patients don’t take the complete course as prescribed, it contributes to the emergence of drug resistant malaria parasites.
Maximize the longevity of ACTs
We should support national malaria programs to adopt and deploy more than one Artemisinin- based treatment. Again we should support the use of quality assured medicines at the correct dosage and continually monitor their therapeutic efficacy against any signs of resistance.
Develop the next generation of treatments
Malaria kills more children under five than any other age group. This has prompted Swiss healthcare company Novartis to start up development of an advanced new antimalarial medicine targeting parasites showing resistance to current drugs. it is currently in clinical trials and is aimed at treating children as young as six months. National Malaria control programs must be ready to incorporate this potential new medicine in their budgets and treatment guidelines when it becomes available.
Expand lab testing capacity
Many sub-Saharan countries lack the equipment, personnel, funding or infrastructure to efficiently handle sequencing of malaria. Much more is needed.
Develop cross border action plan with neighboring countries
The resistant parasites may already be in the neighboring countries since its documentation in Rwanda. Inter-country collaborations need to be reinforced, information shared and education of healthcare workers need to start up as soon as possible.
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