Reassessment of the Resistance of Plasmodium Falciparum to Chloroquine in Gabon: Implications for the Validity of Tests in Vitro vs. In Vivo

Trans R Soc Trop Med Hyg. Nov-Dec 2002;96(6):660-3. doi: 10.1016/s0035-9203(02)90345-7.


Increasing resistance of Plasmodium falciparum to antimalarial drugs presents a major risk factor for people living in endemic areas of tropical Africa. In Lambaréné, Gabon, regular surveillance of chloroquine sensitivity of P. falciparum in vitro has been carried out since 1992 using the WHO standard microtest. Results indicated that from 1994 onwards chloroquine resistance in vitro decreased significantly and that by 2000, about 70% of parasite isolates seemed to be sensitive to chloroquine in vitro. In 2001, we conducted a clinical study to reassess the efficacy of chloroquine in vivo for the treatment of uncomplicated P. falciparum malaria. Twenty-six patients aged 4-15 years were included in this study. Most unexpectedly, the study demonstrated high-grade resistance to chloroquine in vivo (failure rate on day 28 of 100%). As a consequence, tests of parasite susceptibility to chloroquine in vitro were repeated using the same protocol except for the replacement of previously used commercially available predosed WHO culture plates by independently dosed plates. All tested P. falciparum isolates were highly resistant to chloroquine, correlating well with our clinical findings. We concluded that high level resistance of P. falciparum to chloroquine persists in the study area. Neglect or absence of quality controls of essential test material can lead to invalid study results and wrong conclusions and should always be suspected in the case of major fluctuations in the sensitivity patterns of an antimalarial drug in vitro. In addition, our results highlight the supreme value of tests in vivo in providing reliable estimates of the efficacy of an antimalarial in a specific area.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Animals
  • Antimalarials / therapeutic use*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Chloroquine / therapeutic use*
  • Drug Resistance
  • Gabon
  • Humans
  • Malaria, Falciparum / drug therapy*
  • Plasmodium falciparum / drug effects*
  • Risk Factors


  • Antimalarials
  • Chloroquine