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Drug-Resistant Malaria Spreads in Southeast Asia

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From VOA Learning English, this is the Health Report.

On Thailand’s border with Myanmar, also known as Burma, a malaria research and treatment center is increasing efforts to kill, or eliminate, a drug-resistant form of the parasite before it spreads abroad. VOA correspondent Steve Sandford reports from Thailand.

A health center near a busy border crossing in Thailand has had great success over the last 20 years in reducing the effect of malaria.

Cases of the disease have greatly decreased. But doctors like Cindy Chu remain worried.

“We used to see a lot of malaria at the Wangpha clinic but now with efforts of elimination and active surveillance and even the setting up of malaria posts on the other side of the border, the malaria rates have really gone down. So we don’t see as much malaria as we used to. On the other hand, the malaria that we do see is more complicated. And because of artemisinin resistance, the cases we see here require additional therapy.”

Medicines called Artemisinin have been highly effective against malaria when used in combination with other drugs. Using a combination of drugs is called a “cocktail.”

But in five countries in Southeast Asia -- Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar and Laos -- the malaria organism, or parasite, has developed a resistance to the treatment. Drug-resistant means that the drug no longer treats the disease.

Doctors can still treat infected patients with stronger drug cocktails. But they worry that it is just a matter of time before those medicines also become ineffective.

Dr. Francois Nosten has been leading research on the Thai - Myanmar border for the past 30 years. He says that the clock is ticking, meaning time is running out.

“This is a global public health emergency because we could see in our studies that the progression of resistance is quite fast. For example in 2007 none of the patients were infected with a resistant parasite. In 2012, 80% of the patients are infected with the resistant parasite, so in just a few years the majority of the infections are caused by the resistant parasite.”

Dr. Nosten wants a stronger method of dealing with resistant malaria to control its spread. He wants to give medicine to whole villages where the parasite can lie inactive and unseen in many people.

“What we predict is in order to stop the progression of artemisinin resistance, we need to eliminate malaria. It’s not good to just reduce the number of cases, reduce the transmission of the disease, we need to eliminate the parasite.”

Medical teams are making plans to give anti-malarial drugs in villages where many cases of malaria have been reported. Many are hoping that this effort will stop the spread of an increasingly dangerous parasite.

I’m Anna Matteo.

VOA Thailand correspondent Steve Sandford wrote this report. Anna Matteo adapted it for Learning English.


Words in the News

drug-resistantadj. resistance in the ability of microbes, such as bacteria, viruses, parasites, or fungi, to grow in the presence of a chemical (drug) that would normally kill it or limit its growth.

malarian. a serious disease that causes chills and fever and that is passed from one person to another by the bite of a mosquito

parasite n. an organism living in, with, or on another organism

eliminate v. to remove (something that is not wanted or needed) : to get rid of (something)

cocktail - n. (medical) a mixture of agents usually in solution that is taken or used together especially for medical treatment or diagnosis

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