Manila, 13 October 2011—Containment efforts are being intensified in the Mekong area to prevent the spread of malaria parasites that are resistant to artemisinin, the most potent treatment for the disease.
The World Health Organization (WHO) warned that failure to contain the spread of artemisinin-resistant malaria may have devastating consequences for the treatment of malaria worldwide.
Dr Shin Young-soo, Regional Director of the World Health Organization's Western Pacific Regional Office, presented a progress report on malaria to the Regional Committee for the Western Pacific, WHO's governing body in the Region, meeting in Manila to review WHO's work in the Region.
WHO said that while there have been considerable achievements to reduce malaria mortality and morbidity in most countries in the Western Pacific Region, progress is fragile. Sustained malaria control and elimination are now being threatened by the emergence of artemisinin-resistant malaria parasites.
“There is now no group of drugs that can replace artemisinins," Dr Shin said. "New medicines at early stages of development are likely to take at least a decade until they become available for clinical use. By then it might be too late. The world cannot afford to lose artemisinin and artemisinin derivatives for the treatment of malaria.”
Activities have been stepped up in the Region to respond to the threat of artemisinin resistance and implement containment measures in affected areas, based on WHO's Global Plan for Artemisinin Resistance Containment, including:
- Intensified and enhanced access to malaria prevention, early malaria diagnosis and effective malaria treatment;
- Expanded outreach to migrant and mobile populations, particularly in Cambodian-Thai border areas;
- Banning the marketing of oral artemisinin-based monotherapy and using only combination therapies;
- Addressing the problem of substandard and counterfeit medicines through continued monitoring of the medicines' quality; increased public awareness and regulatory and enforcement actions;
- Intensified monitoring of antimalarial drug efficacy in all countries of the Region where falciparum malaria, the most dangerous type of malaria, is endemic.
Malaria is a life-threatening disease caused by parasites that are transmitted to people through the bites of infected Anopheles mosquitoes.
Dr Shin said nine of the 10 malaria-endemic countries in the Western Pacific Region are now aiming for malaria elimination. He urged Member States to accelerate implementation of activities to intensify control of malaria and to strengthen their commitment to actions called for in the Regional Action Plan for Malaria Control and Elimination in the Western Pacific (2010-2015), a road map to guide national malaria programmes.
Coverage with malaria interventions has increased, but further intensification of efforts will be required to meet elimination goals. Universal access of all populations at risk to malaria diagnosis, artemisinin-based combination therapy and preventive measures, including insecticide-treated bednets, is yet to be achieved, especially for vulnerable groups, such as mobile and migrant populations, children, pregnant women, people living with HIV/AIDS, and international travellers to malaria endemic areas.