For the past year and a half, the National Malaria Center has been developing a way to fight a growing threat to malaria victims: drug resistance.
This week, the center will showcase the fruits of that labor with their newly developed blister packets, sealed, dual-medicine treatments that can be taken over the course of three days.
The blister packets, which contain tablets of both Mefloquine and Artesunate, have a “100 percent kill ratio” of the malaria parasite, said Dr Stephan Hoyer, malaria expert from the World Health Organization.
The drug combination also produces no side-effects, he said. “These drugs are safe.”
The drugs are produced in Switzerland, but they are packaged by the Ministry of Health at a new facility near Pochentong airport. The packets give clear instructions for use in both French and Khmer and are clearly marked with a “not for sale” label. There are three dosages: infants, adolescents and adults.
“This is to avoid the resistance problem in Cambodia,” said Dr Doung Socheat, vice-director of the malaria center.
The rapid spread of resistance to treatment, he said, is caused by people either improperly self-medicating or using fake drugs. “From now on, all of Cambodians will have one simple three-day treatment.”
Weakened dosages cause the malaria parasite’s biochemistry to change, rendering it immune to the drug much in the same way humans inoculate themselves against diseases, Hoyer said.
With Cambodia one of the countries hardest hit by this type of resistance, the Health Ministry had to find a way to curb this trend. The international community watched with great interest.
“Cambodia is the world leader in this anti-malaria control technique,” Hoyer said.
Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Burma, as well as the US, are all waiting to see how effective the dual-drug treatment will be, he said.
The potent packets will be distributed free-of-charge to provincial health centers along with a new form of diagnosis device, colloquially called a “dip stick.”
The dip stick is able to detect the presence of falciparum malaria in about 15 minutes. A bit of blood is dabbed on the stick and rinsed with solution. If two pink lines appear, the patient has malaria and will be handed their blister packet.
Demonstration blister packs and dip sticks will be distributed to health officials from each of the 24 provinces and municipalities today and Friday in Sihanoukville, with the first shipment of 20,000 blister packs being distributed to health centers throughout the country within the month, Hoyer said.
After that, the Health Ministry hopes to produce between 100,000 and 125,000 packets per year, depending on the need, Doung Socheat said.