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Malaria poses challenge as multi-drug resistance spreads in Africa

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Scientists have raised the alarm that malaria was becoming untreatable in Africa due to the spread of multi-drug resistance. Also, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned that the disease might not be eliminated by 2030 as thought in view of available medicines and tools.

In the first continent-wide genomic study of malaria parasites, scientists have uncovered the genetic features of Plasmodium falciparum (malaria parasites) that inhabit different regions of Africa, including the genetic factors that confer resistance to anti-malarial drugs. This sheds new light on the way drug resistance is emerging in different locations and moving by various routes across nations and putting the previous success in controlling the ailment at risk.

The research, published on August 22 in Science, comes from the first network of African scientists, the Plasmodium Diversity Network Africa (PDNA), to work with genomic tools to study the diversity of malaria parasites across the continent.

In collaboration with the Wellcome Sanger Institute, the researchers studied the genetic diversity of P. falciparum populations endemic to several countries in sub-Saharan Africa, including Ethiopia, Ghana and Malawi. Genomic surveillance data are to track the emergence and spread of drug-resistant strains and assist in eliminating the scourge.

The results confirmed that populations of P. falciparum have shared genetic information over time, particularly genes associated with resistance to antimalarial drugs.

Most disturbing was the fact that strong genetic signatures were detected on chromosome 12 in P. falciparum samples from Ghana and Malawi, raising the possibility that recent evolution of the parasite could compromise the effectiveness of artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs).

ACTs combine multiple antimalarial drugs in one treatment to overcome resistance to one or more individual drugs.Malaria remains a global problem, with the deadliest parasite species P. falciparum prevalent across sub-Saharan Africa.


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