THE World Health Organisation released new guidelines this week aimed at ensuring that antimalarial drugs are used correctly, particularly in areas where resistance to them has been detected.
Observers say there could be potentially dangerous consequences if resistance to treatment is allowed to spread.
The WHO is recommending that health practitioners administer treatment only after testing has confirmed the presence of malaria in a patient.
Efforts to address the problem are particularly key in Cambodia, where evidence of emerging resistance to the drug most commonly used, called artemisinin, has been documented in Pailin province.
“There is likely no greater global threat to the future success of malaria control than resistance to artemisinin,” Robert Newman, director of the WHO’s global malaria programme, said during a press conference this week in Bangkok.
Steven Bjorge, team leader on malaria with the WHO in Cambodia, said that although it is urgent to address the problem, the drug is still effective when administered correctly.
“What we’ve found so far is that the drug still works, but it doesn’t work in a short period of time, as it did a few years ago,” Bjorge said.
Whereas before, it might have taken fewer than three days for antimalarial treatment to kill the parasite, it is now taking five or more. “That means the drug can still be used, but it requires vigilance,” Bjorge said
In 2009, authorities recorded more than 80,000 malaria cases and 300 resulting deaths – both increases over the previous year’s tally. But Bjorge said there has been a downward trend in reported cases over the last decade.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY AFP