‘Large-Scale Action’ Needed In Myanmar To Prevent Spread Of Artemisinin-Resistant Malaria Parasites

In this New York Times opinion piece, Frank Smithuis, director of Medical Action Myanmar in Yangon, and Nick White, professor of tropical medicine at the Mahidol Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit in Bangkok, recount a brief history of the development of anti-malaria drugs and their contribution to “a significant global reduction in malaria” and note that this progress “is now threatened by the emergence of malaria parasites that are resistant to artemisinin on the Cambodia-Thailand border …, the same place where chloroquine resistance emerged 50 years ago and spread across Asia and Africa to claim millions of lives.” They write, “The spread of artemisinin resistance is a very serious threat to health in the tropics. There are currently no drugs that can satisfactorily replace artemisinins.”

“Myanmar, which has the largest malaria burden in the region, is the next frontier in the spread of artemisinin resistance, and the likely conduit for its spread west,” they continue, noting that the country, located “between the Andaman Sea and the Himalayas, … is in a unique position to halt the spread of resistance to India and Africa.” Smithuis and White add, “Myanmar has been left out of large-scale humanitarian and development aid for political reasons. Aid to contain this emergency is needed, and it is needed urgently.” They conclude, “Immediate and large-scale action in Myanmar is needed to prevent further spread of these artemisinin-resistant malaria parasites. Myanmar needs substantial financial support to prevent a looming malaria catastrophe” (3/29).