A new report has revealed that Asia accounts for 88 percent of all malaria cases and most of the 46,000 annual deaths occurring outside Africa.
Leading scientists and health experts meeting in Sydney this week at the "Malaria 2012: Saving Lives in the Asia-Pacific" conference also want tougher political leadership and regional coordination.
AdvertisementMost international efforts to defeat malaria have so far focused on Africa, where the majority of deaths occur.
But out of the 3.3 billion people at risk from the mosquito-borne disease, 2.5 billion live outside the African region.
Fatoumata Nafo-Traore, director of the Roll Back Malaria Partnership, the global framework for coordinated action against the disease, called for that to change.
"Asia accounts for the second highest burden of malaria, second only to Africa," she said.
"In the face of persistent economic uncertainty and profound changes in the landscape of global development aid, the region needs strong political leadership.
"It also needs to develop financing strategies that include substantive and sustained domestic investment, traditional multilateral and bilateral aid and truly innovative sources of funding."
She was speaking at the launch of a new report, "Defeating Malaria in Asia, the Pacific, Americas, Middle East and Europe", a joint initiative with the World Health Organization.
It showed that the parasite threatens more than two billion people each year in the Asia-Pacific region, while smaller numbers are at risk in the Americas (160 million) and Middle East (250 million).
According to the report, there were some 34 million cases of malaria outside Africa in 2010, claiming the lives of an estimated 46,000 people.
The Asia-Pacific, which includes 20 malaria-endemic countries, accounted for 88 percent, or 30 million, of these cases and 91 percent, or 42,000, of the deaths.
India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Myanmar and Papua New Guinea were hardest hit.
Outside Asia, there were 1.1 million cases in the Americas and 1,200 deaths and 2.9 million cases in the Middle East and the Caucasus with 3,100 deaths.
The three-day Sydney conference focused on growing resistance to the drug used everywhere to cure the life-threatening disease -- artemisinin, which is central to the efficacy of anti-malarial treatment.
Resistance has been detected in Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar, and Vietnam and the report said it stood to "unravel the hard-won gains of recent years".
This includes 43 malaria-endemic countries worldwide reporting declines in malaria cases by 50 percent or more compared to the year 2000, according to the WHO.
The Asia-Pacific has traditionally been the epicentre for the emergence of drug-resistant malaria parasites, and the report said the spread of artemisinin resistance needed to be urgently addressed.
"Anti-malarial drug resistance is one of the greatest challenges to continued success in controlling and eliminating malaria in the Asia-Pacific," said Robert Newman, director of the WHO's Global Malaria Programme.
"There is an urgent need for coordinated action against this public health threat, as called for in the Global Plan for Artemisinin Resistance Containment.
"It will be critical to galvanize political action and secure investments to implement an emergency response plan for the Greater Mekong sub-region."
Despite the progress, an estimated 216 million malaria cases still occur in the world every year and cause around 650,000 deaths, mostly African children under five.
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