SUNDAY, JULY 15, 2018

Drug-resistant malaria in GMS could undo progress toward disease control

The World Health Organization issued a warning on Thursday that emerging drug-resistant malaria in the Greater Mekong Subregion could undo progress toward malaria control without urgent funding and action.

Resistance to artemisinin, the front-line anti-malarial drug, was first confirmed on the Thailand-Cambodia border in 2008. The drug was also detected in Vietnam and Myanmar.

"The emergence of artemisinin resistance could undo the enormous progress made towards malaria control and elimination-and potentially pose a serious global health threat," Shin Young-soo, the WHO regional director for the Western Pacific, said. "Key development partners strongly support our efforts. However, we still face a funding gap of at least $450 million over the next three years. The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has pledged $100 million and a regional proposal has just been submitted."

Artemisinin-based combination therapies are the first-line treatment for uncomplicated Plasmodium falciparum malaria in most malaria-endemic countries. ACTs are partially responsible for significant progress in reducing the world's malaria burden.

"We are taking the situation very seriously," Shin said. "If resistance to artemisinin emerges elsewhere, the consequences for global health could be grave."

The WHO worked with other development partners to create a regional framework for action to combat artemisinin resistance in the GMS. The program is meant to provide the six countries and areas of the subregion with a strategic direction to fight and defeat resistance. The WHO also plans to establish a regional hub in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, to coordinate and support containment efforts.

"With the framework and the hub, we now have the pieces in place to provide the countries of the Greater Mekong Subregion with the support they need to take on artemisinin resistance," Shin said. "The task is to contain resistance and then to eventually eliminate malaria from the region."

Shin said that health services alone cannot meet the challenge of artemisinin resistance. Shin said that non-health sectors must be involved in the effort, including consolidated action in the trade, labor, immigration and agriculture sectors.