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Drug-Resistant Malaria Spreading Across Africa: What Are Its Implications?

Drug-resistant malaria has been spreading across Africa in recent years and now it is confirmed that it has reached Rwanda and Uganda. This has caused alarm to health experts and officials as it poses a great risk and threat to the area. Infectious disease experts have explained this development and its possible implications in the fight against malaria.


Malaria poster

A poster of a boy infected with malaria. (PHOTO: US Army Africa via Flickr)

Malaria: Description, Signs, and Symptoms

Malaria is caused by a parasite from the bite of infected mosquitoes, which live in tropical and subtropical countries. According to Mayo Clinic, almost 290 million people get infected with malaria around the world every year and kills over 400,000 people annually.

Signs and symptoms of malaria may include fever, chills, general feelings of discomfort, nausea and vomiting, headache, diarrhea, abdominal pain, fatigue, rapid breathing, rapid heart rate, cough, and muscle or joint pain. Some would experience cycles of malaria in which it usually starts with shivering and chills followed by high fever, and sweating before returning to normal temperature.

These symptoms usually begin a few weeks after getting bitten by an infected mosquito, although some types may lie dormant in the body for up to a year. Doctors recommend immediately seeking medical help when symptoms are experienced while living in or traveling to a high-risk malaria area.

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Drug-Resistant Malaria in Africa

Drug resistance occurs when the effectiveness of a drug is reduced and no longer cures the targeted infection. It starts with a few parasites that mutated and survive treatments then spread rapidly because drug-resistant bacteria continue to reproduce.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the development of drug-resistant malaria poses one of the greatest threats to controlling the epidemic and results in high morbidity and mortality. 

Currently, two out of four human malaria parasites are known to be drug-resistant, namely the  Plasmodium falciparum and P. vivax. The other two species are P. malariae and P. ovale, which are still not confirmed whether they have developed resistance to antimalarial drugs.

Experts said in an article in the blog Down to Earth scientists should accelerate research and development for alternative medicines, maintain healthy markets to attract manufacturers to produce the medicine, and improve quality of care to malaria patients, and enhance surveillance to track drug resistance.

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