U.N. presses for unity against malaria in Southeast Asia

The United Nations recently asked health ministers from the Association of South East Asian Nations to support efforts to halt the spread of drug-resistant malaria, particularly along the Cambodian-Burmese border.

Scientists fear that resistant strains of the mosquito-borne illness could spread beyond the region. The United Nations-backed Roll Back Malaria Partnership said more effort is needed to ensure the threat remains localized, according to VOA.

"Right now we need to intensify our attention and action in a way to keep the world safe from malaria epidemics in the future by making sure the medicines we use at present remain useful for as long as possible," RBM Executive Director Thomas Teuscher said, VOA reports.

Health officials are becoming increasingly alarmed by the growing number of malaria cases in Thailand, Cambodia and the border regions of Malaysia. Scientists see single-use and counterfeit medications a key cause behind the growing level of drug resistance.

Teuscher said he is concerned that eventually drug treatments will cease to function.

"At present it is the threat of drug resistance - to site the World Health Organization correctly - it takes more time to clear the parasite in the blood of malaria patients at present," Teuscher said, VOA reports. "But the drug still eventually cures people but it just takes a lot more time. So that is a strong indication that the drug might at some point not work at all anymore.

"We can go very far and it is mostly an issue of political commitment to deploy that vision at the strategic background in the right place of course and to then mobilize a broad range of financial and human resources to make that happen."