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By CCTV correspondent Martin Lowe
"A looming malaria catastrophe" is how some scientists are describing the emergence of a strain of the parasite which is resistant to drugs. It’s been discovered in remote areas of Thailand. Researchers fear- unless they can find out why it’s happening-the resistance could spread, threatening not just Asia but the world.
This child is very sick. She has malaria after being bitten by a mosquito.
The parasite has infected her blood to a dangerously high level. Here on the border between Thailand and Myanmar malaria is common, though in the past it’s been under control. But the disease now appears to be becoming resistant to the strongest drugs.
Professor Francois Nosten, Director of Shoklo Malaria Research Unit, said, "It’s not being alarmist to say we have to do something now."
Scientists come here to study malaria.
The Shoklo Research Unit is a part of Mahidol University, in the Thai capital, Bangkok, and collaborates with scientists worldwide. Research is being shared with Oxford University in the United Kingdom.
The man is charge is Frenchman, Professor Francois Nosten, who’s carried out the world’s largest drug trials in malaria.
"The consequences if resistance spreads worldwide will be the loss of the last generation of drugs, there are no new drugs available. People will die, millions will die, we know that." Professor Francois Nosten said.
The malaria parasite can cause kidney failure and oxygen-starvation in the brain. In infected areas, it is transmitted by mosquito bite.
Dr. Aung Pyae Phyo, Wang PHA Clinic, said, "Our concern is to clear the whole parasite out. Therefore we’re keeping her here."
The number one drug to combat malaria is artemissinin, derived from the Chinese wormwood plant.
Resistance to earlier anti-malaria drugs also began in Thailand, then spread across Asia to Africa. Millions died.
"Some people say they’re not sure and we should study more but once it’s out of the box it’s too late." Said Professor Francois Nosten.
This scientist allows non-infected mosquitoes to feed from her own arm. They’re being literally hand-reared for study.
Chiara Andolina, Scientist of Shoklo Malaria Research Unit, said, "It’s like acupuncture with small needles inside."
Though malaria drugs have lost effectiveness before, the concern this time is that there is no replacement available. New drugs are being developed – but it’ll be 5 to 10 years before they’re ready. Time, some say, the world does not have.