As the fight against infectious disease has reached unprecedented levels of global cooperation, we have seen the spread of effective, life-sustaining drugs begin to reach many of the poorer regions of the world, particularly those most afflicted by these disease epidemics. However, the spread of these drugs to cure patients also begets the resistance to many of the most effective treatments over time. This resistance may arise for a number of reasons including poor drug administration and normal microbial evolution. In the fight against the most deadly infectious diseases, the need to prevent drug resistant strains from developing is paramount.

According a recent New York Times article, a recent study published by the New England Journal of Medicine reveals that drug-resistant malaria strains are popping up in Cambodia. This information is alarming for a couple reasons. First, the strains are demonstrating the first signs of resistance to artemisinin. This drug, according to the article, “has been hailed in recent years as the biggest hope for eradicating malaria from Africa.” Second, this region of the world is alleged to be the origin of the resistance to chloroquine, a malaria drug once considered the cure to the most deadly form of malaria, falciparum malaria. After many years, chloroquine became useless against this malaria in many parts of the world. Lastly, experts say there is no major drug to take its place and none currently in development that possess this potential.

The problem of resistance to artesiminin is gaining ground and the attention of the world, if not slowly. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued a call in 2006 for the stop of single-drug artesiminin malaria pills by pharmaceutical companies, proving good foresight on this matter. Pairing the drug correctly with other anti-malaria drugs, the success rate of treatment reaches up to 95%. The drug combinations are extremely important because the secondary combinants work to kill any remaining artemisinin-resistant strains. A U.S. researcher at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research goes so far to advocate for aggressive handling of the problem by saying, “‘This should be a global emergency that is addressed in a global fashion.'”

Unfortunately, due to Darwinian-like evolution, these bacteria will continue to evolve and develop resistance to the drugs we create to treat them. But through effective drug combinations and continued aggressive treatment of the strains in Cambodia and elsewhere, the drug-resistant malaria strains can be contained. The rise of this problem I believe highlights the need for increased research funding, wider medicine distribution, and other preventative measures including support from the most wealthy countries to ensure the health and safety of those in at-risk areas for malaria. What steps do you think need to be taken to address the growing concerns of drug-resistant strains regarding malaria and infectious diseases in general?

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