Malaria is a deadly disease spread by mosquitoes and is estimated to kill one person every 30 seconds, according to the World Health Organization. The majority victimized by this disease are children under the age of five, living in impoverished conditions throughout Africa . Yet, as the epidemic continues to escalate, more than 1.5 million people die from malaria disease each year, and more than 300 million cases are reported in over 90 countries worldwide.
In spite of these staggering statistics, an ancient Chinese herb known as artemisinin (also called ginghaosu) is proving to be a new weapon in the fight against this deadly disease. In recent test trials performed by the WHO, artemisinin-based drugs quickly reduced fevers and rapidly lowered blood-parasite levels, which can keep small outbreaks in mosquito-infested areas from becoming epidemics. Additional research findings showed the use of artemisinin was a cure for malaria in more than 90 percent of cases in certain countries.
It is estimated by the WHO that 40 percent of the world’s population is at risk for malaria disease each year. While Westernized countries eradicated malaria back in the 1940’s, third world countries constantly battle infections, primarily because they lack the medical resources to properly fight epidemic outbreaks. Countries where malaria disease can be predominately found include parts of Mexico , Central and South America , Dominican Republic , Haiti , Middle East, Africa, Southeast Asia, Indian Subcontinent, China , and Oceana.
In the indigent areas where the disease runs rampant, malaria is easily transmitted from person to person by a simple mosquito bite. Once bitten by a mosquito carrying the malaria infection, the iron rich blood cells in the host are attacked by the parasite through the bloodstream. The parasite then multiplies and causes the red blood cells in the human host to rupture, thus instigating immediate malaria symptom such as extreme exhaustion, high fever, shaking, chills, and severe sweating. Additional malaria symptom can include: fatigue, dizziness, headache, dry cough, nausea/vomiting, loss of appetite, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, and body aches.
However, artemisinin is not only a treatment for the disease, but a viable solution to the epidemic, as each patient treated with artemisinin then contains a sterile form of malaria disease, reducing the diseases intensity.
According to Jack Miller, licensed acupuncturist and President of Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, “This is another example of science confirming the tremendous value of Chinese herbal medicine. It is very important that we make other herbs a part of mainstream treatments, for example antibiotic herbs. As more bacterial strains become resistant to pharmaceutical antibiotics, some reliance on herbs will become very important.”
Discovery of the Healing Chinese Herb
The Chinese first extracted artemisinin from the sweet wormwood plant for medicinal use more than 2,000 years ago. In 340 AD a Taoist scribe finely grinded the wormwood plant, in order to extract the purifying agents to create an herb remedy for treating a high fever. Over a thousand years later, a Chinese sage known as Li Shizen discovered elements of the herb helped to ameliorate malaria symptom. Since this time, artemisinin’s beneficial agents have continually been used by those practicing Traditional Chinese Medicine, applying the Chinese herb remedy to a variety of ailments including hemorrhoids, coughs and fevers as well as malaria.
However, Western medicine did not discover the healing properties of the herb until the 1960’s. Chinese scientists became interested in the plant’s reputed qualities and started to look at ancient Chinese herb remedies, only after testing traditional medicines had failed to produce an effective cure for malaria disease.
Once scientists discovered artemisinin was used as an herb remedy for fever, they set about distilling the herb into a tea, and then added chemicals trying to isolate the active compound in the plant. Next, the herb was manufactured in drug form and used to conduct tests on malaria patients in the 1980’s. Their water-soluble form of artemisinin, called artesunate, was found to clear malaria parasites from patient’s bodies faster than any drug in history. Before the Chinese launched their massive antimalarial drive, several million Chinese were infected with the disease each year. Now fewer than 100,000 fall victim to the disease.
Despite the success the Chinese had with transforming the herb into drug form, their accomplishments were not published outside of the country for more than two decades. Once the extraordinary powers of the herb become public information, researchers across the globe have become focused on how to manipulate artemisinin with modern synthetic drugs so they can inexpensively manufacture and mass-produce the remedy all across the world.
Providing a Crucial Cure for Malaria
In rural Africa , children suffer from as many as six bouts of malaria a year. In the past, this disease has been poorly treated, and the children affected by this disease die slowly of anemia. Those who survive are affected both mentally and developmentally in their growth. The primary reason these children are continually affected is because the current drug treatment Chloroquine, used since 1970, is practically useless as resistance is up to 90 percent in some areas and continuing to spread.
Artemisinin may prove to be the final solution to malaria disease as researchers are looking at the possibility that a patient may never develop resistance to the treatment.
According to Todd Luger, L.Ac., Director of Chinese Herb Academy, ” Artemisinin shows promise in the treatment of malaria as well as other diseases as serious as cancer. It appears to affect the life cycle of the malaria parasite as well as the life cycle of cancer cells.”
What makes this herb different from past remedies such as the drug Chloroquine, is that it kills the parasite before it has time to recognize the drug’s structures. In order to prevent patients from becoming resistant to artemisinin, researchers are developing multi-drug cocktails. Using two drugs in conjunction with one another ensures destruction of the malaria parasite; therefore, if the virus was resistant to one drug, the other drug should prove to be effective. This has proven to be an effective method in treating other diseases that produce resistant strains such as AIDS and cancer.
Artemisinin is particularly effective because it acts like a bomb when introduced into the blood stream. The two main oxygen atoms that break apart in the presence of iron, filter into the red blood cells where the malaria parasite inhabits, and explodes, releasing lethal toxins that destroy the parasite. This process rapidly reduces the number of parasite in the blood to extremely small numbers. In fact, test trials have shown that artemisinin is an effective cure for malaria, killing 99 percent of malaria parasites within 48 hours, but to completely cure the infection the drug must be taken for week.
In a large scaled assault on the malaria epidemic, the WHO has dedicated itself to cutting the number of deaths from malaria over the next decade in half. This campaign will push the WHO to acquire more than 100 million doses of artemisinin it estimates it will need by late 2005.