Resistant malaria in Asia worries scientists

Malaria researchers recently announced that they fear the spread of resistant forms of the disease from once isolated pockets in Asia.

Scientists said that they have confirmed resistant strains of the malaria parasite on the border between Thailand and Burma, 500 kilometers from previously identified sites, according to the BBC.

Some experts said the rise of the resistant strains has seriously compromised the effort to eliminate malaria.

Currently, the most effective anti-malaria drug is derived from the Chinese plant, Artmisia annua, or sweet wormwood.

In 2009, scientists announced that they had discovered a species of malaria parasite in parts of western Cambodia that was becoming more resistant to artemisinin, the drug derived from sweet wormwood. The new data, published in the British medical journal the Lancet, confirms that patients are infected with the resistant strain nearly 500 miles away from its origins.

"It would certainly compromise the idea of eliminating malaria that's for sure and will probably translate into a resurgence of malaria in many places," Professor Francois Nosten, who is part of a team carrying on the recent work, said, the BBC reports.

The research has yet to determine whether the resistance is moving because the mosquitoes carrying the parasite have moved or because it has spontaneously arisen among the local population.

"Either the resistance has moved and it will continue to move and will eventually reach Africa," Professor Nosten said, according to the BBC. "Or if it has emerged, now that artemisinin is the standard therapy worldwide then it means it could emerge anywhere.

"If we were to lose artemisinin then we don't have any new drugs in the pipeline to replace them. We could be going back 15 years to where cases were very difficult to treat because of the lack of an efficacious drug."