The on-going campaign to eradicate malaria completely may just have encountered another hurdle as scientists have announced the discovery of a new drug resistant strain of the disease.
According to researchers from Mahidol Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit who describe this development as alarming, the strain which was detected at the Myanmar-India border poses an enormous challenge to global health as it has been discovered to have ability to shut-off the effects of Artemisin, a compound which has been largely effective in the treatment of malaria until now.
This emerging trait means that the largely effective power of Artemisin can be negated at will by the new strain of malaria.
The World Health Organisation, WHO, estimates that in 2010 there were 219 million cases of malaria resulting in 660,000 deaths. Others have estimated the number of cases at between 350 million and 550 million for falciparum malaria and deaths in 2010 at 1.24 million up from 1.0 million deaths in 1990.
The majority of cases (65%) occur in children under 15 years old. About 125 million pregnant women are at risk of infection each year; in Sub-Saharan Africa, maternal malaria is associated with up to 200,000 estimated infant deaths yearly.
According to WHO, deaths attributable to malaria in 2010 were reduced by over a third from a 2000 estimate of 985,000, largely due to the widespread use of insecticide-treated nets and Artemisin-based combination therapies.
In 2012, there were 207 million cases of malaria. That year, the disease is estimated to have killed between 473,000 and 789,000 people, many of them children in Africa.
Deaths from malaria have nearly been halved since year 2000 and the infection now kill about 584, 000 people each year.
The new drug resistant strain of malaria has been detected in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, and Myanmar. So far, it has however not been undetected in Africa.