As the world continues to fixate on the COVID-19 pandemic, it is feared that efforts to combat malaria will fall by the wayside. Caused by a parasite, Plasmodium falciparum, which is transmitted by the female Anopheles mosquito, malaria is one of the most persistent and deadliest diseases in Africa.
In the Central African Republic, this concern is even more important as the country continues to painfully rebuild from a civil war that began in 2012 and wreaked havoc on the country’s already weak healthcare infrastructure.
There has been an uptick in malaria cases where artemisia-based treatments seem to be less effective than before
At the Pasteur Institute in Bangui, Dr. Romaric Nzoumbou-Boko is focusing his research on the possibility of a new strain of the Plasmodium falciparum parasite that may have developed a mutation that has made it resistant to treatments derived from the artemisia plant. Medical professionals in the capital of Bangui have noted an uptick in malaria cases where artemisia-based treatments seem to be less effective than before. If this were true, it would be a significant upset to public health in numerous countries, not just in Africa, where artemisinin extracted from the Artemisia annua plant has been used for prophylactic and therapeutic malaria treatments for years. The efficacy of this chemical extract has been proven in clinical trials.
Dr. Nzoumbou-Boko analyzed samples at two sites in Bangui between 2017 and 2019, and could not find a strain that had developed a mutation making it more resistant to artemisinin. Although his finding was reassuring, the noticeable decline in the impact of artemisinin on treating malaria is motivating Dr. Nzoumbou-Boko to pursue further research on a previously unreported Plasmodium falciparum strain that may have developed such a mutation. He is seeking to conduct further trials to map the parasite’s potential artemisinin resistance across the Central African Republic in order to develop more effective malaria treatments.