“In recent weeks, the emergence on the Thai-Myanmar border of malaria strains resistant to artemisinin, a plant-derived drug, have led to pessimistic headlines and reminders of the setback caused by resistance to the drug chloroquine, which began in the 1950s,” columnist and author Matt Ridley writes in the Wall Street Journal’s “Mind & Matter,” noting, “April 25 is World Malaria Day, designed to draw attention to the planet’s biggest infectious killer.” He continues, “For this reason, prevention generally works better than cure in eradicating infectious diseases: Vaccination beat smallpox, clean water beats cholera, less crowded living beats tuberculosis and protection from mosquitoes beats malaria.”
A strain of malaria that is resistant to artemisinin combination therapy (ACT) is spreading along the Thai-Myanmar border and has the potential to spread to Africa if efforts to effectively treat and prevent the disease are not undertaken, according to a study published in the Lancet on Friday, Reuters reports (Lyn, 4/5). Since 2008, patients treated with ACT have been slower to clear the parasite than previously, “[a]nd this precursor to resistance seems to be spreading, despite efforts to carefully use artemisinin (by giving it in combination with other drugs) to avoid the emergence of resistance,” Scientific American writes.
Yaws, a skin and bone disease caused by a treponematoses bacterium that can cause long-term deformities, “has recently been put on WHO’s list of 17 so-called neglected tropical diseases (NTDs)” and, along with Guinea worm, is “slated for eradication,” the Lancet reports. A “massive push to free the world from yaws failed in the 1950s and 1960s,” and the WHO in 1995 estimated “there were 2.5 million cases of endemic treponematoses (mostly yaws),” according to the Lancet. A study published in the Lancet in January showed a single dose of the antibiotic azithromycin was effective at curing the disease among children, a finding that “jump-started the NTD community into action,” the article states.
“[W]e are losing the global fight against bad medicines,” and though “[s]ome progress is being made,” the “problem is that … crackdowns tend to focus on counterfeit drugs” while a “much bigger public health problem … is substandard drugs that are the result of shoddy manufacturing and handling — or perhaps worse, deliberate corner-cutting,” Roger Bate, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, writes in an opinion piece in The Hill’s “Congress Blog.” He continues, “In poor countries, a frightfully high number of bad drugs reach patients through legitimate supply chains and even donor programs underwritten by U.S. and European taxpayers,” increasing the risk of harm to patients and the development of drug-resistant disease strains.
“Multidrug-resistant [tuberculosis (TB)] is at epidemic proportions in some parts of the world — a growing problem the U.S. is surprisingly unprepared for,” the Wall Street Journal reports. Noting “[t]he U.S. beat back multidrug-resistant tuberculosis [MDR-TB] in the 1990s,” the newspaper continues, “Today, however, a new threat is emerging as drug resistance worsens abroad and far more dangerous strains develop and spread, including some that are all but untreatable with standard drugs.” The Wall Street Journal examines reasons behind a resurgence of MDR-TB in the U.S., treatment and control efforts, and how “funding and expertise are in decline” (12/19).
As part of its continuing coverage of malaria, NPR’s “Shots” blog features a story on counterfeit anti-malarial drugs, which “are among the most popular drugs to fake.” According to the blog, “[T]hese faux pharmaceuticals are particularly dangerous because malaria can kill a person in a matter of days,” and, if the drugs contain only a small amount of the real drug, they can contribute to the development of drug-resistant malaria parasites. “And that appears to be happening now in Southeast Asia with one of the most powerful anti-malarials, artemisinin,” the blog writes (Beaubien, 12/19).
PEPFAR will purchase up to 150 rapid tuberculosis (TB) Xpert testing devices and cartridges to test about 450,000 people for TB, “addressing a need to improve diagnoses of drug-resistant strains of disease, and to identify the disease in HIV-positive people in sub-Saharan Africa and Myanmar, the Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator announced” Tuesday, the Center for Global Health Policy’s “Science Speaks” blog reports. “The investment is part of an ongoing effort,” according to the blog, which notes, “The announcement of the program’s added investment in the Cepheid Xpert tests, following the pre-World AIDS Day release last week of PEPFAR’s blueprint for creating an AIDS-free generation backs the plan’s stated purpose of applying evidence-based approaches and scientific advances to confront the global HIV epidemic” (Barton, 12/4).
“Global efforts to combat malaria are under threat from new strains of drug-resistant malaria, which are cropping up in Southeast Asia,” particularly in Cambodia, Myanmar (also known as Burma), Thailand and Vietnam, NPR’s “Shots” blog reports. “Although the resistance is still limited to Southeast Asia, WHO officials worry that it could spill out of the region,” the blog notes. “Shots” includes a video report from NPR correspondent Jason Beaubien on efforts to properly treat the disease in Thailand (Beaubien/De La Cruz, 12/18).
NPR’s “Shots” blog examines how “[o]pportunists who market street drugs may be undermining the global struggle against AIDS,” writing, “In South Africa, two mainstay HIV drugs have found their way into recreational use.” According to the blog, “[p]eople with HIV who smoke so-called whoonga — an illicit concoction of an AIDS medication and a street drug, like marijuana or heroin — can develop mutant strains of the virus resistant to the medication,” or “people can become infected with a strain of HIV that came from someone who used whoonga.”
In a New York Daily News article, ABC News medical correspondent Richard Besser discussed the network’s new “Be the Change: Save a Life” series ahead of its Friday launch, which will be the “first installment in a multimillion-dollar partnership between ABC News and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to cover global health issues.”