BANGKOK — The World Health Organization is warning that about $450 million is needed over the next three years to stop a strain of drug-resistant malaria from spreading beyond Southeast Asia to the rest of the world.
Researchers say the artemisinin-resistant strain has spread to Burma and Vietnam since it was first detected along the Cambodian-Thai border in 2008. In addition to sounding the alarm about drug-resistant malaria, the World Health Organization is rolling out an emergency response to what it terms a potentially serious global health threat.
The first line of defense against the deadliest strain of malaria, treatment based on artemisinin medication, is failing. WHO team leader Eva-Maria Christophel in Manila says the organization is now ensuring sufficient surveillance has been put in place in the areas around the strain’s origin in the Greater Mekong sub-region.
“All countries in the Asia-Pacific region are able to really monitor, at a high quality, the drug-resistance situation in their countries so that we really know whether there are further problems somewhere else. And, then, if discovered then similar containment responses must be launched,” said Christophel.
Christophel says communities where an outbreak is detected will get special attention. “They will see a quite significant amount of malaria control and elimination activities being rolled out which both cover diagnosis and treatment, cover the preventive part in terms of bed nets. In some countries, also indoor residual sprayings and health education for malaria so that people really know what this all about and how they can protect themselves,” said Christophel.
Most at risk are villagers living on the fringes of forests, a favorite habitat of the mosquitoes which transmit Plasmodium faciparum, a protozoan parasite, to humans. A three-day dose of the drug artemisinin, combined with other medications, can kill most of the parasites. The WHO says resistance to artemisinin may have been caused by the parasite’s long exposure to the drug, as well as the use of substandard or counterfeit medications in Asia and Africa. WHO says a pledge of $100 million to fight the spread of drug-resistant malaria has been given by the Swiss-based Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. But a funding gap of $450 million still remains.
A veteran journalist, Steven L. Herman is the Voice of America Asia correspondent.