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"Supermalaria" Is on the Way

There has been growing hope in recent years that malaria could eventually be eradicated but that sense of optimism is currently facing some major new challenges. Scientists are warning that a “supermalaria” parasite is spreading rapidly across Southeast Asia, and could pose a global health threat if it spreads to Africa. It is resistant to artemisinin, the recommended first-line treatment for malaria. In addition, if the U.S. Congress carries out the proposed 44 percent cut to the President’s Malaria initiative (PMI) funding, it could have a significantly undercut prevention and treatment programs. Projections show that the PMI cut alone could lead to an additional 300,000 malaria deaths over the next four years. Although the disease continues to be a major global public health problem, the number of deaths from malaria has been falling due to the impact of major PMI-funded control programs, which include insecticide-treated bed nets, indoor residual spraying and anti-malarial treatments. In 2015, there were an estimated 438,000 malaria deaths worldwide compared to 584,000 in 2013. The majority (92 percent ) of these deaths have been in sub-Saharan Africa and it is feared that if the drug-resistant strain currently seen in Southeast Asia spreads to Africa, it could diminish the gains that have been made. Unfortunately, the sudden emergence and spread of this new resistant strain should not come as a surprise to malaria control experts—it’s a case of history repeating itself. Just like insecticide resistance, drug resistance is a phenomenon that we have experienced before, and will probably see again and again until malaria is eventually eradicated. Thus, we should view the periodic emergence and re-emergence of drug resistance as an opportunity to learn something new about the malaria parasite and its transmission, develop even more sustainable ways of controlling it, and make any new, alternative treatments last longer. Even more important, we need to redouble our efforts to increase and maintain funding for malaria control.

Read More: "Scientific American Blog Network

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