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Artemisinin Resistance Threatens Efforts to Control Malaria
Date:11/19/2009

WASHINGTON, Nov. 19 /PRNewswire/ -- Evidence of resistance to the antimalarial drug artemisinin and its derivatives threatens efforts to control malaria in Southeast Asia, and experts fear artemisinin resistance may spread from the Thailand-Cambodia border to affect other malaria endemic countries. Evidence to such effect was presented today at the 58th annual meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH).

The prospect of spreading artemisinin resistance is particularly alarming given that malaria is one of the most devastating infectious diseases in the world, causing approximately 250 million illnesses and 850,000 deaths annually. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that roughly half of the world's population is at risk of malaria, and those living in lower-income countries are at particular risk. Malaria also exerts a significant economic toll, reducing economic growth rates by as much as 1.3% in countries with high disease rates.

"Artemisinin combination therapies are the most rapidly and reliably effective treatments for malaria caused by the Plasmodium falciparum parasite, which is responsible for the vast majority of malaria-related illnesses and deaths," noted Dr. Pascal Ringwald of the WHO, who spoke at the ASTMH session. "The loss of artemisinin derivatives to resistance could have a devastating effect on health in tropical countries, and would threaten current global efforts to eliminate malaria, as there are very few innovative replacement therapies in the pipeline at the late stage of development."

Artemisinin is the active component of the Chinese medicinal herb Artemisia annua, which has been used as an antimalarial treatment since at least the fourth century CE. Artemisinin was extracted as a drug product in the 1960s. In addition to the parent compound, a number of artemisinin derivatives are available to treat malaria; these include artesunate, artem
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SOURCE The American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene
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