The frontline fight against deadly malaria parasites threatening a new global emergency

ITV News has travelled across the world to report on the growing global threat of the spread of deadly drug-resistant 'super bugs'.

In the first of our three-part series, we investigate the frontline fight against deadly malaria parasites in South East Asia threatening a new global emergency.

The current drugs to fight malaria-carrying mosquitos save millions of lives across the world.

But mutations to the deadly parasites are making existing medicine ineffective.

Holding back the tropical disease is now - in 2018 - a challenge the world has no option but to meet to prevent a problem experts say is tantamount to global warming.

ITV News has travelled to the frontline of the fight in western Thailand - where mosquitos plague the dusty wilderness - and on to a laboratory 300 miles away in Bangkok where thousands of mosquitos are under surveillance.

Here in the city lab the parasites, which the mosquitos transport, have mutated to become resistant to treatment.

So scientists at the Mahidol Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit (MORU) are testing new drugs on samples to find a way to kill them.

Trying to stay one step ahead of the parasites?

"We're trying to catch it up!" Dr Kesinee Chotivanich told ITV News.

UK funding is boosting the work of scientists at the Mahidol Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit. Credit: ITV News

The British government this week announced £9.2 million funding for research, led by the MORU scientists in Bangkok, to develop two new safe and effective malaria treatments.

Combating future threats in the laboratory comes amid a perilous daily battle to defeat the existing deadly strains in the open.

Trying to rid existing malaria in remote villages across several Asian nations is paramount to the fight, but it's undermined by some worryingly stark statistics.

Bill Gates, whose foundation is helping to fund research and development efforts to end malaria told ITV News that mosquitoes are adapting to drugs and insecticides.

"There's no surprise that if we don't renew our tools, the mosquitoes get resistant to the insecticide, the parasite gets resistant to the drugs.

"This generation of the bednets, which is a chemical called Pyrithroide, they need to be replaced.

"So fortunately, working with the Liverpool school, the UK and our foundation have funded collaboration with these chemical companies so that we do have a new net coming in.

"We're down from a million to less than a half million, we want to cut it in half again," the Microsoft co-founder said.

The border between Thailand and Myanmar is on the frontline of the fight. Credit: ITV News

In some parts of Cambodia, 60% of cases of malaria are resistant to new drugs. In Vietnam, it's 30% of new cases.

So grave is the threat in tiny rural border towns in Myanmar - the frontline of the global fight - that scientists from Thailand make journeys by water every day.

More than 1,000 malaria clinics are set up to try to control the disease and stop its spread.

"We believe we can do a firewall here, stopping malaria resistance," the head of the Malaria Elimination Taskforce, Professor Gille Delmas, told ITV News.

Children in Myanmar are under threat from new strains of malaria. Credit: ITV News

"It's a common sense idea, a simple idea that is bringing the malaria test and treatment as close as possible to the people, so they don't have to wait to access services.

"They can be treated quickly, before the parasite is communicated to other people."

Here, residents queue to get tested.

The treatment worked for one man, Tin Myint Hlaing, but he almost died.

Malaria survivor Tin Myint Hlaing now fears for his children. Credit: ITV News

Now he fears his whole family is at risk from the new strain, putting his children in danger.

Being infected is a real possibility.

Migrants workers regularly pass through these villages, so anyone carrying it could spread it when bitten by mosquitos.

Ultimately, though, it's the wider implications that make the threat to the villagers so vital to defeat.

Around 90% of all malaria deaths occur in Africa and nations are hugely fearful of the risk of a spread of malarial resistance.

Professor Sir Nicholas White chairs the Bangkok research unit. Credit: ITV News

So the work in the Bangkok laboratories becomes all the more crucial.

"If it spreads to Africa, as it has twice before, we could have millions dying," the research unit's chairman, Professor Sir Nicholas White, told ITV News.

Is it a potential global emergency?

"Yes I would call it a global emergency and I think we could prevent it becoming a global emergency," Sir Nicholas said.

"It's much better to stop a global emergency before they become such, rather than wait for a disaster then try to fix it."