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The first known case of artemisinin-resistance in Africa has been identified: a finding of great significance for efforts in global malaria control and drug resistance monitoring.

A large international team that included KAUST scientists identified the African origin of drug-resistant malaria parasites detected in a Chinese patient, who had travelled from Equatorial Guinea to China.

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Artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT) is the first-line recommended malaria treatment and comprises artemisinin and another antimalarial drug.

Normally ACT clears the parasites from the blood within three days; however, recently, strains of the malaria-causing agent, Plasmodium falciparum, in Southeast Asia have become relatively tolerant to artemisinin.

 The resistance is partial and the majority of patients can be cured, albeit with a considerable delay. But, malariologists, including experts from the World Health Organization, fear that P. falciparum might eventually develop complete resistance to artemisinin, as it has to other antimalarials.

“The spread of artemisinin resistance in Africa would be a major setback in the fight against malaria, as ACT is the only effective and widely used antimalarial treatment at the moment. Therefore, it is very important to regularly monitor artemisinin resistance worldwide,” explained Pain. 

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