Scientists have revealed that a drug-resistant malaria has been discovered at the Myanmar-India border and now raises concern as it could pose an enormous health threat worldwide.
On Friday, scientists said that a malaria that is totally resistant to the antimalarial drug artemisinin now inflicts Myanmar and is spreading close to the border with India.
They noted that if the drug-resistant malaria parasites manage to reach India, these could threaten attempts to control and eradicate the mosquito-borne disease.
Although deaths associated with the disease has nearly halved since 2000, the infection still currently kills nearly 600,000 people annually mostly children from the poorest parts of sub-Saharan Africa and resistance to artemisinin threatens all the hard work made to battle the disease.
Artemisinin has been used for many decades for ridding the body of the malaria parasite. Another reason why the resistance is particularly troubling is that there is no immediate replacement for this treatment with scientists saying potential substitutes for artemisinin could be available years or even decades from now.
"This should focus minds," said study researcher Charles Woodrow, from the Mahidol-Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit of the Mahidol University in Thailand "We have to eliminate these very resistant parasites. The fear is that if we don't, we would reverse all the gains that have been made."
The resistant form of malaria has so far been detected in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam and Myanmar, where blood samples taken from over 900 individuals from 55 sites across the country showed the resistance is already widespread in the country.
The researchers, whose findings were published in the The Lancet Infectious Diseases journal on Feb. 19, found that nearly 40 percent of the parasite samples had mutations in the kelch gene, K13, a genetic signal of resistance to the artemisinin drug.
They also found that Myanmar's Sagaing region, one of the sites that were inflicted with the resistant parasites, is just 25 kilometers from the Indian border.
The researchers noted that if the artemisinin-resistant malaria were to spread from Asia to Africa or independently emerge in Africa, millions of lives could be at risk of this potentially deadly mosquito borne disease.
"Our findings provide strong evidence that artemisinin-resistant falciparum malaria extends across much of Upper Myanmar, including regions close to the Indian border in the northwest," the researchers wrote. "A vigorous international effort to contain this enormous threat is needed."