By Simeon Bennett
May 20 (Bloomberg) — Saron Samnith, 14, slouches in the doorway of his family’s thatched hut off a dusty track near Pailin, a city in western Cambodia. He has chills, diarrhea and a three-day-old headache — signs of malaria.
The bout of the mosquito-borne disease, for which he tested positive, is his second in a month. The first left him comatose and in danger of dying, before medicines curbed the attack. Coursing through Saron’s veins may be the strain so dangerous that health officials –and the billionaire Bill Gates — are racing to stop it from spreading before it kills millions.
In Pailin, a flood of counterfeit pills from China and elsewhere is helping to breed a superbug that resists even the most-effective medicine. The development threatens to unleash a global malaria “disaster” and undo decades of work to reduce illness, destitution and death, said Arjen Dondorp, a Thailand- based researcher.
“It’s a time bomb,” said Dondorp, the deputy director of the Wellcome Trust-Mahidol University Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Programme, with headquarters in Bangkok.
The World Health Organization plans to defuse the bomb with a screening and treatment program to contain and eliminate the resistant strain. The effort, in and near Pailin, may begin next month. The program is backed by $23 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, based in Seattle.