The emergence of a new strain of highly drug-resistant malaria in Cambodia, Thailand and Laos could have devastating consequences on a global scale, a study published Thursday in The Lancet medical journal reveals.
The Bangkok-based Mahidol Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit (MORU) said in a statement that research found a new line of the multidrug-resistant P. falciparum malaria established in Cambodia that “represents a serious threat to global malaria control and eradication efforts”.
“We now see this very successful resistant parasite lineage emerging, outcompeting its peers, and spreading over a wide area,” said Arjen Dondorp, head of MORU’s malaria program.
Failure rates in treating this strain are high because of its resistance to two of the main drugs that are typically administered for cases of malaria.
Researchers said Cambodia and its neighbors had to intensify their efforts to curb its spread, because its potential presence in sub-Saharan Africa and India “would be a global health disaster”.
The new strain, which was found in blood samples collected in Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand and Laos, is a mutation of an older form of this line of malaria.
“It appears to be fitter, more transmissible and spreading more widely,” the study said, adding that the last time a similar parasite spread rapidly, “it killed millions”.
A spokeswoman at the Health Ministry referred questions to the National Center for Parasitology and Malaria Control, which could not be reached.