Artemisinin and the anti-malarial research in Vietnam

VietNamNet Bridge – The initial research works carried out in Vietnam about the effects of Artemisinin in 1990-2000 served as a good foundation for the later research works, which led to the decision to use Artemisinin for treating malaria.

Dr Hien (in the middle) and local residents of Lam Dong province
In general, Nobel Prize winners will only announced in October. However, people believe that the Nobel Prize in medicine would be awarded to the ones who found Artermisinin, the medicine which saved millions of people all over the world from malaria.

Especially, the Vietnamese war against the US imperialism and the contribution of Vietnamese scientists to research works helped lead to the great discovery.

Professor Dr Tran Tinh Hien has been well-known in Vietnam and in the world as one of the leading experts in malaria. He is the author of nearly 100 research works on the issue published on scientific journals.

In April 1975, when working as a physician at the Cho Quan Hospital, Tran Tinh Hien witnessed a harsh malaria epidemic. In 1987-1990, Vietnam had 900,000-1.2 million malaria infected cases, which caused 2000-3500 deaths. The reasons behind the epidemic were the strong migration movement of people into the malaria areas and the poor healthcare system. Meanwhile, normal anti-malarial medicine showed no more effects.

Hien could see with his eyes 6-7 death cases a day. Fighting against malaria then became a big challenge for Hien and other physicians.

However, Hien only began making serious research works on malaria in 1987, when Dr Keith Arnold from Roche Asian Research Foundation in Hong Kong visited the hospital. In fact, Hien well knew the doctor, who was a lecturer of the Saigon Medical University prior to 1975.

In 1980, Keith Arnold came to China to visit Professor Li Guo Quao to cooperate in making research about malaria. At that time, both of them had their own weapons to fight against malaria. Professor Li had Artemisinin, while Dr Arnold had mefloquine. Two years later, the two scientists made public a scientific research work on The Lancet magazine.

Professor Hien made a right decision when he spent the last decades to focus on researching clinical artermisinin. Dr Nguyen Hoan Phu from the then Cho Ray Hospital recalled that at that time, artermisinin brought very encouraging initial results if compared with other popular kinds of medicine. Artermisinin then saved a lot of patients.

Quyen Linh, a well-known cinema artist in Vietnam, was one of them. He was hospitalized for one month because of the malignant malaria and only left the hospital in good condition. However, only later did Linh realize that he was rescued by the cooperation research program on artermisinin.

The initial research works about the effects of artermisinin in Vietnam in 1990-2000 served as the firm foundation for the next research works. The famous scientific magazines in the world then reported that the medicine could treat malaria well for both adults and children.

More than 10 years later, the World Health Organization (WHO), based on that proofs, successfully carried out a similar research work in Africa, saving thousands of children.

Dr Keith Arnold and Professor Hien also could prove the long term effects of using artemisinin + mefloquine. This is the foundation for the theory about ACT (Artemisinin combination therapy) developed by Professor Nick White which was then accepted by WHO.

Besides the cooperation with Dr Arnold, Professor Hien and his team in Vietnam have cooperated with Professor Li to make dyhydroartemisinin-piperaquine (Arterakin) which can replace some expensive imports.

Arterakin, which is made domestically, is now the key medicine of the national program on fighting malaria.

Source: SGTT