World Health Day has been celebrated since 1948 when the first World Health Assembly created the global awareness day to mark the founding of the World Health Organization (WHO). The worldwide event provides a unique opportunity for the global community to raise and act on issues that can improve our health.
The theme of World Health Day 2011 is ‘Antimicrobial resistance: no action today no cure tomorrow’ which highlights the implications of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and its global spread.
AMR causes microorganisms, such as bacteria, viruses and some parasites, to resist an antimicrobial medicine to which it was previously sensitive, rendering antibiotics, and other antimicrobial medicines on which we depend to treat conditions, ineffective. AMR develops when a microorganism mutates or acquires a resistance gene as a consequence of the misuse of antimicrobial medicines.
The sobering consequences of AMR are highly significant in the fight against malaria which was responsible for 781,000 deaths worldwide in 2009. Low cost treatment for the disease is available, however resistance to earlier generation antimalarial medicines such as chloroquine and sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine is now widespread in most malaria-endemic countries.
In support of World Health Day 2011, BioMed Central’s Malaria Journal has recently published a dedicated supplement entitled ‘Natural products for the control of malaria’, focusing on the use of traditional medicine as a starting point for the development of new antimalarial drugs.
The natural products discussed in these studies include the combination of artemisinin, flavanoids and other compounds occuring naturally in the leaves of Artemisia annua, which increase the effectiveness of the treatment. Circumin (from turmeric) has anti-malarial properties and is being tested for use against cerebral malaria. Furthermore, adding piperine (from black pepper seeds) to circumin increases its effectiveness 2000 times.
As WHO calls for intensified global commitment to prevent and counter the emergence of highly resistant microorganisms, these studies provide optimism for the future of antimalarial medicines. However it will take a global effort to safeguard all antimicrobial medicines for later generations.