Philadelphia, US: Researchers have unveiled a new malaria map that they claim is the first to identify on a global scale where the long-lasting and potentially deadly form of malaria—a parasite known as Plasmodium vivax—has a firm foothold in large swaths of South Asia and parts of Latin America.
“This map helps us understand just how difficult it is going to be to eradicate malaria,” said Peter Gething, PhD, who led the University of Oxford’s Malaria Atlas Project (MAP) team that produced the study of vivax burden. “It shows that in substantial parts of the world, vivax malaria is endemic and transmission is significant. Unfortunately, the tools for fighting this type of malaria range from ineffective to non-existent.” The map was unveiled at the annual meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH).
Other studies being discussed at ASTMH and published in the December issue of the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, add to mounting evidence that vivax malaria may be killing people far more often than previously thought; confirm that existing treatments are inadequate and potentially toxic to millions; and shed light on the level of precaution that travelers should take when visiting these regions.
While not as deadly as the Plasmodium falciparum malaria parasite that is predominant in Africa, vivax is more common throughout the world, with an estimated 2.85 billion people at risk of infection. And with its unique ability to relapse by hiding in the liver for months or even years, vivax is harder to detect and cure.
The MAP team produced an analysis last year depicting only where vivax is known to exist. Malaria experts immediately called for a map pinpointing where the disease is most prevalent, noting that such a tool is essential to mounting an effective fight against this form of malaria.
Hotspots for vivax malaria highlighted by MAP include substantial parts of India. Papua New Guinea also has a high rate of infections and transmission, as do significant parts of Indonesia and Myanmar (including Yangon). In the Americas, the area of greatest concern is a large but sparsely populated portion of the Northern Amazon, most of which is in Brazil. But the hotspot also includes parts of Peru, Colombia and Venezuela. In Central America, almost all of Nicaragua is a hotspot for vivax malaria, as are parts of Honduras and Guatemala.