The BBC reports today that malaria has started to evolve resistance to the artemesinin family of drugs that are used as the world’s front-line defense against the most prevalent and deadly form of the disease.
Artemesinin emerged from a Chinese herbal medicine, Qinghaosu, where it was used as a fever treatment for generations. I remember writing about the earliest research in my New Scientist days and have watched the drug discovery process bring us to the point where a potent pharmaceutical could, it seemed, defeat the disease…
…no more. In Cambodia, at least, resistant strains of malaria have been spotted by two teams of scientists, working on separate clinical trials who reported disturbing evidence of reduced drug efficacy.
The BBC says researchers are blaming a weak public health system and poorly controlled drug use, as well as fake drugs, produced by international criminals, for the problem. But, the problem is not really socioeconomic at all – it’s natural selection in action. We present the disease with a changing environment and it evolves to fill the niche.