News / Health

Program Launched to Counter Drug-Resistant Malaria

A malaria patient is comforted in the only hospital in Pailin, western Cambodia. (File)
A malaria patient is comforted in the only hospital in Pailin, western Cambodia. (File)
Robert Carmichael
On World Malaria Day, the World Health Organization has launched an emergency program in Phnom Penh to tackle a worrying regional trend - a strain of malaria that is proving resistant to the most important anti-malarial drug.

Six years ago, health researchers were worried after a strain of malaria in western Cambodia began to show resistance to the world’s key malaria treatment - Artemisinin-based Combination Therapy, known as ACT.

In response, the Cambodian government and its health partners, including the World Health Organization, put in place a program to prevent the resistant strain (falciparum malaria) from spreading within Cambodia and beyond its borders.

That program appears to have contained the resistant strain.  But Thailand, Burma and Vietnam have reported pockets of artemisinin-resistant malaria strains.

The WHO malaria specialist in Phnom Penh, Stephen Bjorge, said it is likely the strains in those countries arose independently of Cambodia’s - which means the containment efforts have worked.

But because artemisinin is the standard treatment, it is important the resistant strains in all of these areas are contained and then eradicated.  That is the purpose of a three-year, $400-million program the World Health Organization announced Thursday.

“The risks are significant - not only are they significant for the region in terms of having a reversal of the gains that have been made against malaria, but they are actually significant globally," said Robert Newman, director of the WHO’s Global Malaria Program.  "If history is any guide, if we were not to contain this problem then it is very likely to spread elsewhere.  Especially risky is to sub-Saharan Africa, where the greatest burden still exists.  And, if we were to lose the efficacy of the ACTs today, this really would be a public health catastrophe in Africa.”

The WHO-led program is being funded by the Global Fund, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and by the Australian government’s development arm called AusAID.

It will cover six countries: the four where resistance has already been found, as well as two more considered to be “at risk” from the resistant strain: Laos and an area of southern China.

Newman said some of the lessons learned from Cambodia’s efforts are being used.

“This is not starting from zero," he explained.  "It is building on the experience initially on the Cambodia-Thailand border where those countries gained a lot of experience in how to reach the populations that are actually most difficult to reach - migrant and mobile populations, how to use village health care workers, how to more aggressively remove substandard medicines from the market.”

The program will distribute insecticide-treated bed nets; monitor fake drugs; ensure people have access to reliable testing and treatment; and track the disease.  Migrant communities and people living in border regions will be key targets of the program.

AusAID has provided  $5 million of funding for the program. 

“Well, our initial funding is fixed, but the reality is Australia is part of this region,"  said AusAID’s principal health advisor Ben David.  "We are part of the Asia-Pacific and we see this as a critical investment to protect the poor in the region from malaria, but also to protect the interests of countries because if this problem gets out of control and we see malaria drug resistance spread in the region and beyond, then we are in to face a big set of problems.”

David says, last year, malaria killed 42,000 people in the Asia-Pacific region and more than half a million worldwide, most of them children in Africa.

Recent years have seen good progress in tackling malaria, but the WHO warns that could be undone should the resistant strains escape the current pockets in the countries of the Greater Mekong sub-region.

David believes governments will do their part to prevent the spread.

“It has actually got significant economic implications, if this problem of resistance continues.  So, we really need to make the economic case to governments to continue to invest in this problem,” he added.

The chloroquine-resistant malaria strain has caused millions of deaths globally since it emerged 60 years ago from the forests of western Cambodia.

The World Health Organization warns the world cannot afford a similar repeat outbreak by allowing the new strain or strains of artemisinin-resistant malaria to escape the region.

You May Like

Turkish Public Fears Jihadists More Than Kurds

Turkey facing twin threats of terrorism by Islamic State and PKK Kurdish separatists, says President Erdogan’s ruling AK Party More

Video One Year After Massacre, Iraq’s Yazidis a Broken People

Minority community still recovering from devastating assault by IS militants which spurred massive outrage More

‘Malvertisements’ Undermine Internet Trust

Hackers increasingly prey on users' trust of major websites to delivery malicious software More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Communityi
X
Sharon Behn
August 03, 2015 2:23 PM
A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs