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.