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

Guatemala Mudslide Death Toll Rises to 86

Death toll is expected to continue to rise as emergency crews dig through tons of earth for an estimated 350 people still missing More

Debris Found in Search for Missing Ship

Objects located Sunday have not yet been confirmed to be from the 240 meter container ship, El Faro, which disappeared in the eye of Hurricane Joaquin, according to US Coast Guard More

Survivor: Gunman Spared 'Lucky One' to Give Police Message

Law enforcement official says a manifesto of several pages was recovered; contents not revealed More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs