Scientists in Rwanda have discovered a drug-resistant strain of the parasite that causes malaria, a development that will pose a threat to the country’s fight against the disease.
The study was done by National Malaria Control Program of the Rwanda Biomedical Center (RBC), in collaboration with the Institut Pasteur, the World Health Organization (WHO), Cochin Hospital and Columbia University (New York, USA).
The team analysed blood samples from patients in Rwanda, and found Coartem, the most commonly used malaria drug, was not as effective as it used to be.
When the first malaria drug, chloroquine, was developed, researchers thought that the disease would be eradicated within years.
But since the 1950s the parasites have evolved to develop resistance to successive drugs.
The study, published in Nature , found the parasites were able to resist treatment by artemisinin – a frontline drug in the fight against the disease.
Coartem, derived from the Chinese herb artemisinin, had since the 1990s wiped out malaria in more than 96 percent of patients in regions where malaria has become resistant to older drugs. Now it is also not working.
This is the first time scientists have observed the resistance to the drug artemisinin in Africa.
The researchers warns that this “would pose a major public health threat” in the continent.
Since around 2017, there has been increasing reports of malaria incidence in Rwanda, which may have prompted this latest research