As malaria resists treatment, experts warn of a global crisis
When Tran Viet Hung was a soldier patrolling these forested hills in southern Vietnam six years ago, he came down with a fever and chills. He tested positive for malaria and spent a few days recovering in a government clinic.
Now Hung, 37, shrugs off the incident as an occupational hazard of working in this corner of Binh Phuoc province, a malaria hot spot along Vietnam’s porous border with Cambodia.
“We have modern technology,” he said at a rubber plantation in Bu Gia Map district where he now works as a farmhand. “If we don’t feel well, we’ll see a doctor and everything will be fine.”
There is a logic to his optimism: Deaths from malaria are practically unheard of nowadays in Vietnam, and only 85 people died from the mosquito-borne disease across mainland Southeast Asia in 2015, down from more than 4,000 people 15 years earlier, according to a report this year by the Global Health Group, a think tank based at the University of California, San Francisco.
Much of the region’s success in battling what was once a leading cause of death can be attributed to two-drug combination pills containing artemisinin, an inexpensive and effective drug invented in China decades ago.
But a new, drug-resistant strain of the disease, impervious to artemisinin and another popular drug with which it is frequently paired, piperaquine, threatens to upend years of worldwide eradication efforts — straining health care systems and raising the prospect that the death toll could increase again.
Photo courtesy of CDC Global.