The emergence of resistance to artemisinin — a drug used to combat infections with the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum — mirrors the emergence of resistance to a different drug, chloroquine, which arose in the same part of Cambodia 50 years ago. It then spread quickly to Africa killing millions of children.
The only way to ensure that artemisinin-resistant malaria does not reach the rest of the tropical world might be to eliminate P. falciparum malaria at its source, at least temporarily, argues White. The affected part of Cambodia is geographically separated from other malarial areas, so this should prove possible, he says.
White pinpoints three questions to consider in deciding a course of action. Is enough being done to counter the threat, has artemisinin-resistant malaria spread already and is a truly radical approach to disease control justified?
If artemisinin resistance spreads widely, current strategies against malaria will be made redundant, he says.