Leaders of the 18 East Asia Summit countries have committed
to an ambitious aim of eliminating malaria from the entire Asia Pacific region
in the next 15 years.
The bold move shows strong leadership on health security and
responds head-on to concerns about growing resistance to the drug artemisinin,
the mainstay of worldwide treatment for the most dangerous form of the disease.
Resistance was first reported in western Cambodia several
years ago and was more recently detected in Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet
The region-wide commitment builds on strong political and
technical leadership. The Prime Ministers of Australia and Viet Nam are the
co-chairs of the Asia Pacific Leaders Malaria Alliance, a new grouping of heads
of government devoted to battling the disease.
"Technical experts and available evidence all suggest this
game-changing goal is crucial and achievable," said Dr Benjamin Rolfe,
Executive Secretary of the Asia Pacific Leaders Malaria Alliance (APLMA).
Reaching it will require an urgent and coordinated regional
response, robust and predictable financing, as well as effective programme
management in each country.
The fact that drug resistance has extended from its origins
at the Thailand-Cambodia border to as far west as Myanmar, is a particular
cause for worry. Experts fear that should resistance reach India, as has
happened with previous front-line antimalarial medicines, the task of
controlling its spread will be far more difficult.
"If drug resistance escapes from this handful of countries,
the gains of two decades of the global malaria struggle could be undone," said
Sir Richard Feachem, Co-Chair of the Asia Pacific Malaria Elimination Network.
"Hundreds of millions of dollars in previous investments could be lost, and we
could see a massive resurgence of the disease."
The regional malaria elimination goal has considerable cost
implications for the public health budgets of affected countries in the Greater
"Some countries and international organizations are cutting
funds just when we need to go the final mile - to avoid the risk of malaria
resurgence," said Dr Nafsiah Mboi, Chair of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB
and Malaria and former Minister of Health of Indonesia. "We have asked regional
leaders to recognize the risk, to provide vision and commitment, and to take
action to counter it effectively," she added.
The Asia Pacific region has an estimated 32 million cases of
malaria each year and 47,000 associated deaths. Around 2 billion people in the
region remain at risk of infection.
With 22 malaria-endemic countries accounting for
approximately 32 million cases of malaria each year and 47,000 associated
deaths, the Asia Pacific region carries the second highest burden of the
disease outside of Africa. Intense scale-up of interventions in Asia Pacific has
already seen over 80 million cases and over 100,000 deaths to malaria averted
However, some 2 billion people in the region remain at risk
of infection. India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Pakistan and Papua New Guinea bear the
largest burden of the disease, together accounting for 89% of all remaining
malaria cases in the region.
Thanks to treatments containing artemisinin and a range of
other control measures, the number of malaria cases has fallen significantly in
recent years in most malaria-endemic countries in the region. But growing drug
resistance has raised the potential spectre of rising malaria-related deaths,
serious economic impacts and human suffering.
The path to a malaria-free Asia Pacific by 2030 will require
distinct phases: ranging from current efforts to control transmission and
impact of the disease, through halting remaining spread, and then preventing
reintroduction of malaria.
Ref: Citizen News Service (CNS)