Washington — Experts in the United States are raising the alarm over the spread of drug-resistant malaria in several Southeast Asian countries, which is endangering major global gains made in fighting the mosquito-borne disease that kills over 600,000 people worldwide annually.
While the disease wreaks its deadliest toll in Africa, it’s in the Southeast Asian countries along the Mekong River where the most serious threat to treatment has emerged.
The drug artemisinin has helped cut global malaria deaths by a quarter in the past decade, but resistance to the drug was found on the Thai-Cambodia border in 2003, and has since been confirmed in Vietnam and Myanmar also, according to reports.
It has been detected in southwest China, and is suspected in places as far away as Guyana and Suriname, according to a new report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank.
Because no anti-malarial drug is on the horizon, the report warns this could be a health catastrophe in the making.
The UN World Health Organization is warning that what seems to be a localized threat could easily get out of control and become a worldwide threat.
“Absent elimination of the malaria parasite in the Mekong, it is only a matter of time before artemisinin resistance becomes the global norm, reversing the recent gains,” wrote Dr. Christopher Daniel, former commander of the U.S. Naval Medical Research Center, in the report for a conference at the Washington think tank Tuesday.