By: Our Correspondent

As the Asia Pacific conference on Malaria hosted by the Australian Government draws to a close this week, health and foreign affairs ministers, malaria experts and representatives from donor and malaria‐endemic governments are calling for a stronger response to the malady, emphasising the importance of political leadership and regional coordination.

Malaria continues to threaten more than 2 billion people each year in the Asia‐Pacific Region ‐ approximately 67 percent of the world’s total population of people at risk. The World Health Organization estimated in 2010 that 655,000 people died of malaria worldwide that year, mostly children under the age of 5 although other estimates double that figure, far outpointing deaths from HIV/AIDS.

However, a worldwide campaign called the Roll Back Malaria partnership to reduce malaria deaths is having a dramatic effect. The World Health Organization’s World Malaria Report 2011 indicates that with increased coordination and focus on defeating the disease in the last decade, 43 malaria‐endemic countries worldwide have reported declines in malaria cases by 50 percent or more compared to the year 2000. Despite this progress, an estimated 216 million malaria cases still occur in the world every year

The Lancet, the British medical journal, estimated in 2010 that malaria deaths would fall to fewer than 100,000 sometime after 2020. Deaths in Africa have been reduced by more than 30 percent since the2004 peak.

“We’re pursuing the target of a 75 per cent reduction in malaria cases and deaths in the Asia‐Pacific by 2015,” said Sen. Bob Carr, Australia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs. “Malaria does not respect borders. Our focus must be on cross‐regional action alongside traditional single country strategies. Today’s meeting is an opportunity for Asia‐Pacific leaders to coordinate efforts in controlling or eliminating the spread of malaria,” Senator Carr said.

A new report “Defeating malaria in Asia, the Pacific, Americas, Middle East and Europe,” is the first to shine a light on progress and challenges in the fight against malaria in other regions of the world than Africa.

According to the publication, there were approximately 34 million cases of malaria in the regions outside of Africa in 2010, claiming the lives of an estimated 46,000 people. The Asia‐Pacific, which includes 20 malaria‐endemic countries, accounts for approximately 88 percent (30 million) of these cases and 91 percent (42,000) of the deaths. India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Myanmar and Papua New Guinea bear the largest burden of the disease.

“Asia accounts for the second highest burden of malaria, second only to Africa. 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,” said RBM Executive Director, Dr Fatoumata Nafo‐Traoré, the executive director of Roll Back Malaria, an NGO that is involved in combating the malady.

The key challenges in the region’s fight against malaria emerging resistance to artemisinins, which are central to the efficacy of antimalarial treatment with artemisinin‐based combination therapies. Having been detected in Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam, artemisinin resistance poses a very serious public health concern that stands to unravel the hard‐won gains of recent years.

The Asia‐Pacific has traditionally been the epicenter for the emergence of drug‐resistant malaria parasites, and the global spread of artemisinin resistance – or its independent emergence in other regions ‐ could threaten the fragile gains of the last decade.

“Antimalarial 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 Subregion.”

Short News Video
The Roll Back Malaria Partnership has produced a short news video entitled “RBM: Saving lives in the Asia-Pacific” highlighting challenges of antimalarial drug resistance in the Asia Pacific and the importance of mobilizing essential funds and political commitment.

Watch the video below: