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

Turbulent Transition Imperils Tunisia’s Arab Spring Gains

Critics say new anti-terrorism laws worsen Tunisia's situation while others put faith in country’s vibrant civil organizations, women’s movement More

Burundi’s Political Crisis May Become Humanitarian One

United Nations aid agencies issue warning as deadly violence sends tens of thousands fleeing More

Yemenis Adjust to Life Under Houthi Rule

Locals want warring parties to strike deal to stop bloodletting before deciding how country is governed More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threati
X
Greg Flakus
May 29, 2015 11:24 PM
Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threat

Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video New York's One World Trade Center Observatory Opens to Public

From New Jersey to Long Island, from Northern suburbs to the Atlantic Ocean, with all of New York City in-between.  That view became available to the public Friday as the One World Trade Center Observatory opened in New York -- atop the replacement for the buildings destroyed in the September 11, 2001, attacks.  VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

With inter-Korean relations deteriorating over the North’s nuclear program, past military provocations and human rights abuses, many Koreans still hold out hope for eventual peaceful re-unification. VOA’s Brian Padden visited a “unification fair” held this week in Seoul, where border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation.
Video

Video Purple Door Coffeeshop: Changing Lives One Cup at a Time

For a quarter of his life, Kevin Persons lived on the street. Today, he is working behind the counter of an espresso bar, serving coffee and working to transition off the streets and into a home. Paul Vargas reports for VOA.
Video

Video Modular Robot Getting Closer to Reality

A robot being developed at Carnegie Mellon University has evolved into a multi-legged modular mechanical snake, able to move over rugged surfaces and explore the surroundings. Scientists say such machines could someday help in search and rescue operations. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Shanghai Hosts Big Consumer Electronics Show

Electronic gadgets are a huge success in China, judging by the first Asian Consumer Electronics Show, held this week in Shanghai. Over the course of two days, more than 20,000 visitors watched, tested and played with useful and some less-useful electronic devices exhibited by about 200 manufacturers. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.

VOA Blogs