Drug-resistant malaria in Thailand threatens deadly global ‘nightmare’

MAE SOT, Thailand — Clipboard in hand, Dr Francois Nosten worked his way down a ward of malaria patients. He stopped in front of five-year-old Ayemyint Than, who sat to attention and smiled. The smile told Nosten as much as his lines of graphs and figures.

“She’s doing well,” he said, moving to an older man, whose pale face and dull sunken eyes told a very different story. “Day five, and he’s still positive?” he asked another of the doctors. “That’s not very good. It means he was very slow to clear the parasite, no?”

To Nosten, it was further evidence of an alarming rise in resistance to artemisinin, currently the front-line drug in the treatment of malaria. He fears it could be the start of a global “nightmare” in which millions of people could lose their lives.

“We have to beat this resistance, win this race and eliminate the parasite before it’s too late. That’s our challenge now,” he said.

He said that artemisinin should take about 24 hours to deal with the parasite, but it was now taking three or four days in some cases. “We are going to see patients that don’t respond to the treatment anymore,” he warned.

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