New drug-resistant strains of malaria identified in Cambodia
As it sounds the alarm, WHO warns of a "global threat" to public health. The parasites are resistant to artemisinin, the most effective drug available today. Now there are fears that the strains might spread to Africa, where 90 per cent of all deaths already take place.

Phnom Penh (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The World Health Organisation (WHO) is sounding the alarm after the appearance of drug-resistant strains of malaria. Identified in Cambodia, the strains could soon become a "global threat" to public health if the mosquito-borne infectious disease were to spread to other areas of Southeast Asia, even more some if it should reach Africa.

Last year, scientists warned that drug-resistant strains of malaria were spreading in Cambodia as well as appearing along the border between Thailand and Myanmar, raising concerns about a possible epidemic.

At present, researchers have identified the malaria-causing parasites able to withstand treatment by the anti-malarial drug artemisinin, currently the best defence against the mosquito-borne disease.

"All the most effective drugs that we have had in the last few decades have been one by one rendered useless by the remarkable ability of this parasite to mutate and develop resistance," said the leading author of a study on the subject.

Scientists found three distinct groups of drug-resistant parasites in Cambodia, but said they did not yet know exactly how the parasites had mutated to withstand artemisinin.

Meanwhile, WHO has responded to the emergency situation witha defence strategy that will cost about US 0 million over the next three to four years.

The aim is to remove from the affected countries poor-quality antimalarial drugs and other treatments that compromise the efficacy of artemisinin.

Efforts will focus in particular on Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and the southern part of China.

According to the latest estimates, there were about 219 million cases of malaria in 2010 and 660,000 deaths with Africa as the most affected continent with about 90 per cent of all malaria deaths.