REGIONAL authorities are investigating whether signs of resistance to antimalarial medication could be an indication of a larger problem, according to the World Health Organisation.
Steven Bjorge, the team leader on malaria with the WHO in Cambodia, said health officials in southern Vietnam are testing to see whether resistance to artemisinin, the most effective treatment for malaria currently available, has developed in a border area near Snoul in Kratie province. Other reports have surfaced in recent months of signs of resistance along the Thailand-Myanmar border.
“The reports are still very much under investigation,” Bjorge said.
Resistance to artemisinin-based medication has already been documented in areas of Cambodia along the Thai border, sparked by a combination of factors such as the prevalence of substandard, or fake, antimalarials.
Resistance is seen as an alarming issue because there are currently few alternatives to what had once been seen as a “miracle drug” in malaria treatment, Bjorge said.
“If nothing changes in terms of new drugs, it would really be a disaster if these parasites became more common,” he said.
But it is too soon to tell whether the recent reports from around the region are isolated cases or a sign that anti-malarial resistance has spread from the Cambodia-Thailand border area, Bjorge said.
For the past year, authorities have been aggressively trying to stifle pockets of resistance to artemisinin-based drugs in hotspots concentrated along the border, Bjorge said.
For example, officials have distributed treated mosquito nets to 99 percent of residents in affected areas in Pursat, Battambang and Pailin provinces, he said.
At a regional conference on infectious diseases in Hanoi last week, Timothy Ziemer, the US government’s global malaria coordinator, urged authorities to remain vigilant.
“It is essential that national governments remain focused to contain and eventually eliminate these multi-drug-resistant strains,” Ziemer said.
Officials with the National Centre for Parasitology, Entomology and Malaria Control declined to comment on Sunday.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY MOM KUNTHEAR AND AFP