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Good and Bad News on Malaria

There has recently been some big news regarding treatment of malaria. First the good news.

Generally, visiting health centers where I work is one of the parts of my job that I most enjoy. But there is one part of the experience I really can’t take: watching kids take their medication. While this may seem like the easiest part of the process, getting a small child to swallow a large, bitter, scary pill can be quite an ordeal. I often remember one particular little girl in Chad screaming (or rather gargling) in terror as her mouth filled with blood (she bit her tongue) while the nurse held her nose and poured the medication into her mouth. Not a pretty sight. And besides being such a traumatic experience for the child, she ended up spitting out most of her anti-malarial treatment.

So, I was happy to read that Novartis, the producer of the best anti-malarial drug (Coartem), has developed a pill for children, which is small and cherry-flavored. This will be a welcome development that will help health care workers terrify children just a little bit less, while at the same time ensuring they are actually cured of their disease.

[Me explaining to a woman how to give a malaria treatment to her child. (Don’t worry, I won’t always be putting pictures of myself in my posts.)]

Now the bad news. And it’s very bad.

The New York Times reported on Tuesday (I also wrote about this finding last month on my blog.) that studies have found resistance to artemisinin-based malaria therapies in Cambodia. Artemisinin is our primary weapon for treating malaria, as most other drugs have become ineffective due to development of resistance. Everybody pretty much knew that resistance to the new drug would develop eventually – it always does. But we hoped it wouldn’t happen for a while. Drug resistance is sped up by a number of factors, including overuse of drugs, incorrect dosage, failure of patients to complete their full treatment, failure to use drugs in combination, and the existence of counterfeit drugs that contain low doses of the drug.

The video below details the problem of counterfeit malaria drugs in Africa.



Submitted by Anonymous on
I just watched the video on counterfeit malaria (and other) drugs and am stunned. It was the first I had heard of it. Thank you for contributing to opening our eyes to what's going on in the world.

Hi Maria, The differences between western and eastern (or natural) medicine are somewhat over-exaggerated. Many western drugs have roots in "natural" and eastern medicine. In fact, the malaria drug I talk about, artemisinin, comes from a Chinese plant that has been used for ages as an anti-malarial in China. The process of synthesizing drugs (which many people associate with western medicine) means that drugs can be produced more cheaply and on a larger scale and concentrations of drugs can be standardized. However, the western "discovery" of artemisinin underscores the value of improving our knowledge of eastern and natural medicine in order to widen our arsenal of weapons. The issue of resistance is pretty unavoidable. It's simply the process of natural selection at work. The drug kills the parasites/bacteria, etc., but as each organism is slightly different, some can resist the drug better than others. Those with that resistance survive an attack by the drug and reproduce, producing offspring that have their genetic resistance. The more a drug is used, the more it is killing the population of susceptible parasites and leaving the resistant ones.

Thanks for your response to my comment. I agree with you but I was thinking more about something else that I have witnessed here in Colombia with some doctors who combine "western" and "eastern" medicine and develop a deeper understanding (from my point of view) about the real causes behind different reactions from the body (which are supossedly natural). Those real causes connect with the inner state of human beings and how their "emotional part" generates reactions on their "physical part". I don't know if there is any scientific research on how these experiences can relate to the resistance that human beings develop against medicines, but I think the idea is worth exploring... this is a global problem and we may want to explore ways that, even though may appear as naive at a first glance, could potentially have a good impact on the discovery of new aspects of medicine. I enjoy reading and commenting your posts, pretty interesting topics.

These are very bad news indeed. I have no idea about medicine, but I have noticed lately that traditional western medicine does not always "attack" the roots of the diseases that affect our world. And this case seems like an endless cycle (a drug is developed, it is used, people develop resistance to it and it is not effective anymore). Does anybody know if there are people with alternative approaches trying to do something about malaria? like for example people who know about eastern medicine techniques? Or people who practice "bioenergetic" (I am not sure if this is the word in English) medicine?