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Rwandan Researchers Make a Disturbing Discovery about Malaria Parasite

A drug-resistant strain of the parasite that causes malaria has been identified by scientists in Rwanda. The study, published in Nature, found the parasites were able to resist treatment by artemisinin – a frontline drug in the fight against the disease. This is the first time scientists have observed the resistance to the drug artemisinin in Africa. The researchers warns that this “would pose a major public health threat” in the continent. Scientists from the Institut Pasteur, in collaboration with the National Malaria Control Program in Rwanda (Rwanda Biomedical Center), the World Health Organization (WHO), Cochin Hospital and Columbia University (New York, USA) analysed blood samples from patients in Rwanda. They found one particular mutation of the parasite, resistant to artemisinin, in 19 of 257 – or 7.4% – of patients at one of the health centres they monitored. In the journal article the scientists warned that malaria parasites that developed a resistance to previous drugs are “suspected to have contributed to millions of additional malaria deaths in young African children in the 1980s”. When the first malaria drug, chloroquine, was developed, researchers thought that the disease would be eradicated within years. But since the 1950s the parasites have evolved to develop resistance to successive drugs.