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The 'forgotten epidemic' killing millions

by Medindia Content Team on  September 24, 2003 at 3:12 PM General Health News   - G J E 4
The 'forgotten epidemic' killing millions
Malaria, the ancient mosquito-borne disease that was rolled back by medical advances in the mid-20th century, is making a deadly comeback.

Strains of the disease are becoming increasingly resistant to treatment, infecting and killing more people than ever before -- sickening as many as 900 million last year, according to estimates by the U.S. Agency for International Development.

More than 1 million people -- and as many as 2.7 million by some estimates -- of those victims died. The vast majority of the deaths were in Africa.

"Malaria is something that we thought we had conquered years ago. But more and more of our people are dying from it every day," said Patrick Dike, a malaria specialist . Only AIDS kills more people worldwide. Among children, malaria kills even more than AIDS.

The 'forgotten epidemic' killing millions Mosquito-borne malaria making a deadly comeback Malaria, the ancient mosquito-borne disease that was rolled back by medical advances in the mid-20th century, is making a deadly comeback.

Strains of the disease are becoming increasingly resistant to treatment, infecting and killing more people than ever before -- sickening as many as 900 million last year, according to estimates by the U.S. Agency for International Development.

More than 1 million people -- and as many as 2.7 million by some estimates -- of those victims died. The vast majority of the deaths were in Africa.

"Malaria is something that we thought we had conquered years ago. But more and more of our people are dying from it every day," said Patrick Dike, a malaria specialist . Only AIDS kills more people worldwide. Among children, malaria kills even more than AIDS.

Increasing resistance
A major cause of malaria's alarming resurgence is the parasite's increasing resistance to the drugs used to treat and prevent the disease -- including chloroquine, the cheapest and most effective anti-malarial since the 1950s.

The number of alternatives are limited. The WHO supports use of multi-drug combinations based on artemisinin, until recently an extract from the "sweet wormwood" plant used in China for centuries but little known in the West.

Some governments and Western donors have been hesitant to promote the treatment widely because of a lack of funds -- artemisinin is 10 times more expensive than chloroquine, or between $4.50 and $9 for a three-day treatment. "People don't understand why their relatives are sometimes not recovering, or why they are not being cured as quickly as they are used to being cured. How do you explain drug resistance? When they are suffering, the doctor is blamed."

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