Drug-resistant malaria spreads in Asia

Researchers recently reported that a small pocket of drug-resistant malaria once confined to a small region in Southwest Asia has spread and worsened.

The announcement, made by scientists in San Antonio and Thailand, raises fears that a virtually untreatable form of a disease that already kills hundreds of thousands of people every year could spread into India and eventually into Africa, according to

In a report to be published separately, the same scientists from the Texas Biomedical Research Institute offered some measure of guarded optimism. They have reportedly identified the genetic regions on the malaria parasite that allow it to evade standard treatments.

Over the past decade, malaria deaths have dropped by one-third, mostly thanks to an aggressive prevention campaign and a drug cocktail combination therapy containing artemisinin, a root grown primarily in China. The new strain, which surfaced on the Thai-Cambodian border in 2008, is resistant to artemisinin, reports.

Last year, Dr. Margaret Chan, the director general of the World Health Organization, announced the commencement of a major campaign to stop the resistant strain from spreading.

"It is no exaggeration for me to say that the consequences of widespread resistance to artemisinin would be catastrophic," Chan said, reports.