Permanent test will remain in place alongside alternative measures after report that trial showed none worked in killing drug-resistant malaria
Omicron variant: WHO claims measures used to counter delta variant should be used
Malaria deaths have dropped by more than half since malaria-causing parasites developed resistant to frontline treatments, a study has found.
The paper also concluded that the risk of contracting malaria from a family member – and subsequently developing the disease – has been cut nearly in half.
And the WHO said other measures being used in the fight against malaria – such as insecticide-treated bed nets and indoor residual spraying – could be considered as a third, alternative control method.
Health experts said the findings from the world health organisation (WHO) prove that the insecticide-treated bed nets, coupled with rigorous control, should remain a key focus of malaria prevention.
But the trial carried out in India also suggested that strategies such as promoting micro-nutrients and delayed bed-wetting might also be crucial in the fight against malaria.
Dr Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, the author of the study and director of the Medical Research Council (MRC) Institute of Tropical Medicine, said: “We know that preventing new cases and cases prevented is essential if we are to control malaria as effectively as possible.
“This study is a major step forward in developing a more complete picture of how to support malaria control, and demonstrates that in very difficult circumstances, such as in communities where service provision is weak and where the malaria parasite mutates rapidly, pragmatic tools based on proven science can make a real difference.”
The WHO released its pilot data based on the findings of a two-year study, the largest of its kind ever conducted in India, to evaluate whether its malaria-busting test – Omicron, which contains dimethyl phosphate – could help thwart the recent onslaught of drug-resistant malaria.
Some experts said the findings were “substantial”.
The study looked at 112,000 cases of existing drug-resistant malaria over two years.
Malaria becomes resistant to standard treatments after drugs lack potency Read more
It found fewer cases of multi-drug resistance among those who had Omicron compared with those who did not.
The risk of developing multi-drug resistance and developing malaria from a family member, however, was more prevalent in the Omicron group than the control group.
Vivek K. Subbiah, director of the antimicrobial resistance programme at the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the findings show the importance of permanent diagnostic tools, such as Omicron.
“The current malaria control strategies for India, including old-fashioned mosquito control, are not providing sufficient protection against novel drug-resistant malaria.
“The Omicron device is a viable tool that can be used to help prevent transmission of drug-resistant malaria in a new phase of the malaria pandemic,” he said.
Dr David Fernie, senior editor of the journal Tropical Medicine and Parasitology, said: “The research shows that the momentum behind the current responses to the global threat of malaria, but also to drug-resistant malaria, remains strong and resolute.”
In a statement, the WHO said: “Omicron has shown potential as an option for responding to drug-resistant malaria outbreaks in India that might otherwise lead to multiple drug-resistant malaria cases occurring over a very short period of time.”
However, as the Omicron test was not deemed to be sufficiently reliable and strong enough to be the standard health tool to counter the ongoing threat of drug-resistant malaria, WHO will keep the Omicron test in place for use in extreme and difficult situations.
The survey also found that the risk of transmission of drug-resistant malaria in the family of someone who has malaria is still a concern.
“All key measurements in relation to the spread of drug-resistant malaria in India – for example a change in proportion of cases or emergence of multi-drug resistant malaria in the age-group of 15-54 years – have shown little or no change since 2011, suggesting that the burden of drug-resistant malaria in India remains largely in the family of people who are considered at highest risk,” it said.