WHO stresses need to fight malaria now more than ever
World Malaria Day: WHO stresses need to fight malaria now more than ever
MANILA, 25 April 2014 -On World Malaria Day, 25 April, the World Health Organization (WHO) in the Western Pacific Region underscores the urgent need to strengthen investment and political commitment for malaria control at a time when international financing is shrinking and anti-malarial drug resistance is growing.
The continuation of the 2013-2015 theme “Invest in the future. Defeat malaria” reiterates the importance of increased commitment by governments, development partners and other stakeholders to help ensure that the very real gains in fighting malaria are not reversed, and to accelerate action to achieve set targets.
Malaria is currently endemic in 10 out of 37 countries and areas in the Western Pacific Region, but recent years have seen some big and important improvements. For example, the total number of confirmed malaria cases in our Region decreased from 396 000 in 2000 to 299 000 in 2012, a drop of nearly 100 000 cases. The number of reported malaria deaths in the Region decreased from 2400 in 2000 to 460 in 2012.
Despite these successes, a large number of people in this Region, more than 700 million, still live in areas at risk of malaria (approximately 40% of the population in this Region). Malaria transmission continues to be intense in most of Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. Malaria also remains a significant challenge in the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS), where it disproportionately affects ethnic minorities along with mobile and migrant populations. According toThe World Malaria Report 2013, three countries accounted for 79% of reported malaria cases in the Region in 2012: Papua New Guinea (50%), the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (15%) and Cambodia (14%); these three countries also accounted for 86% of reported malaria deaths in the Region.
“The Western Pacific Region has made considerable progress in recent years in reducing illness and deaths from this parasitic disease," says Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific. "Let’s press our advantage by ensuring universal coverage of all populations at risk with quality malaria diagnostics and medicines and vector control measures such as long-lasting insecticidal mosquito nets. We also need to ensure effective malaria surveillance, promote collaboration between countries, and push for priority research – all of this supported by adequate and consistent funding. Failure to do so may lead to resurgences of malaria, put lives at risk, undermine investments made so far, threaten our successes and jeopardize the targets towards malaria elimination set by WHO Member States.”
One of the biggest challenges to malaria control has emerged in the form of artemisinin-resistant falciparum malaria, which has been detected in five of the countries of the Greater Mekong Subregion: Cambodia, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam. Artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs) are the most effective antimalarial treatments available today and have been central to recent successes in global malaria control. ACTs combine artemisinin—a traditional Chinese herbal drug—with another antimalarial drug. The artemisinin component kills the majority of malaria parasites at the start of the treatment, while the partner drug clears the remaining parasites.
“Artemisinin, truly a wonder drug, continues to be far too commonly used on its own for malaria treatment, accessed far too easily through private suppliers,” notes Dr Walter Kazadi, WHO Regional Hub Coordinator, Emergency Response to Artemisinin Resistance (ERAR) in the Greater Mekong Subregion, based in Cambodia. “Countries and health partners need to work urgently to effectively ban monotherapies and help enforce such measures. Make no mistake – if resistance to artemisinin spreads further, particularly to Africa which has the world’s greatest number of malaria cases, the public health consequences could be disastrous.”
WHO’s Regional Action Plan for Malaria Control and Elimination in the Western Pacific (2010–2015) includes the distribution of insecticide treated bed nets for mosquito control, strengthened diagnostic testing, better access to treatment, more robust surveillance, continued research, and the implementation of the emergency response to artemisinin resistance in GMS countries, with the goal to progressively eliminate malaria.
“Malaria control has consistently proven to be one of the best global and regional health investments, generating a high return on relatively low investments,” explains Dr Shin. “Malaria prevention and treatment impact all 8 of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, helping with progress towards other health and development targets. However, with the challenges of sustaining financing as well as malaria drug resistance we’ve seen how fragile our gains really are. Ultimately no country alone can tackle the challenge of malaria. The key to lasting success is an approach that’s truly regional, bringing together governments and long-term funders along with the health care sector and civil society. We can’t afford to be complacent – we can’t afford to fail. If we truly want to defeat malaria, we have to invest in the future – beginning right now.”