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WHO Escalates The Battle Against Malaria

WHO Escalates The Battle Against Malaria As A New Threat Emerges

MANILA, 24 April—World experts have pledged to intensify the battle against malaria amid growing signs that the disease is developing greater resistance to commonly used drugs, endangering efforts to control and eliminate it.

In the Mekong region on the Thai-Cambodian border, health workers are struggling to contain a strain of malaria that is becoming increasingly resistant to artemisinin, the most effective drug available to fight the disease. If these efforts fail, experts at the World Health Organization (WHO) fear, plans to eliminate deaths globally from malaria could be put at risk.

Further jeopardizing ambitions to end the malaria threat, says the WHO, is the wide availability of low-quality and counterfeit drugs in some countries of the Mekong region and the improper use of medicines, such as antibiotics and antimalarials, including artemisinin.

In response to the threat, WHO in conjunction with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and other donors has undertaken efforts to contain artemisinin-resistant malaria on the Thai-Cambodia border.

Key strategies include intense case detection; tackling the improper use of drugs through banning the use of artemisinin without the recommended approach of coupling it with another drug; encouraging treatment with alternative highly effective drug combinations; and ensuring that all people at risk of malaria are protected with long-lasting insecticide-treated bednets.

Drug regulatory authorities, researchers, WHO and the international police agency Interpol have cooperated since 2005 in the Mekong region to interrupt production and distribution of counterfeit antimalarial drugs. Efforts were successful but the threat persists requiring sustained monitoring.

Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific, said: "Time is of the essence here. We have to act now to contain this problem within the Mekong region. It must not be allowed to spread and become a regional and international threat."

The Roll Back Malaria Partnership, launched by the WHO, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the World Bank in 1998, provides a coordinated global approach to fighting malaria. The partnership is initiating a two-year campaign geared towards universal coverage of all people at risk of malaria, with the goal of halving malaria globally by 2010, and achieving near-zero deaths by 2015. The campaign, dubbed "Counting Malaria Out", starts on 25 April, World Malaria Day. It calls on malaria-endemic countries, international partners and donors to redouble their efforts.

In the Western Pacific Region, malaria-endemic countries are Cambodia, China, the Republic of Korea, Malaysia, the Lao People's Democratic Republic, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Viet Nam. A number of them have chosen malaria elimination as their national goal.

Large amounts of funding have now become available for the national programmes to fight malaria in recent years, including over US$ 650 million from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and from other major donors such as Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID), the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Japan and the United States Agency for International Development.

These investments are expected to greatly reduce malaria cases and deaths. However, they will not eliminate the mosquito that carries malaria nor influence the environmental conditions that favour transmission. In this context, Dr Shin commented: "Measures such as early malaria diagnosis, effective treatment and high-quality surveillance need to be maintained and funding sustained. New tools will need to be developed if malaria elimination is to be achieved throughout the Western Pacific Region."


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