For the last seventy years, malaria could have starred in Groundhog Day. Despite scientists’ best efforts to fight the ancient disease — which today kills over 400,000 people a year — the parasite has remained irritatingly defiant, acting in some places like a recurring villain.
After World War 2 ended, malaria was prevalent throughout the world, its spread no doubt aided by the war. At the time, the recently developed medicine chloroquine was hailed as a key to getting rid of it for good. Together with DDT to kill parasite-carrying mosquitos, the World Health Organization was convinced they had the tools to see the end of the disease.
In some places, the WHO’s plan worked. The United States was declared malaria-free in 1951, and much of Europe soon after that.
For work, Taeam works at a logging company in Cambodia’s Stung Treng province, which Bunkok said is known to be more malaria-endemic.
As they chatted, Bunkok drew two drops of blood. He put one under his microscope, and the other on a “rapid diagnostic test” for malaria. (Both instruments were given to him by Population Services International, a nonprofit.) Within minutes, Bunkok confirmed that Taeam had falciparum malaria.
Since Taeam had stopped his previous drug regimen early, Bunkok wasn’t sure if the parasites in his blood had evolved to be resistant — but decided ultimately that an artemisinin-led combination of drugs was the right course for his patient.