World Malaria Day: Sustain gains. Save Lives. Invest in Malaria.

A village malaria worker takes a sample of blood to test for malaria.

World Malaria Day is 25 April. The World Health Organization (WHO) urges countries in the Western Pacific to scale up proven, cost-effective tools to fight malaria — or risk losing ground against this preventable, treatable disease that has claimed countless lives.

Preservation of the gains against malaria depends on the disease remaining a priority for global, regional and national decision-makers and donors, explains WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific Dr Shin Young-soo.

"National malaria programmes need to ensure widespread population access to life-saving and cost-effective interventions," Dr Shin says.

WHO's call to action comes on the eve of World Malaria Day 2012 with the theme, "Sustain Gains. Save Lives. Invest in Malaria". The public health day highlights that half the world's population is at risk for malaria.

The disease is caused by parasites that are transmitted to people through the bites of infected mosquitoes. Artemisinin-resistant falciparum malaria remains one of the biggest challenges to malaria control in the Western Pacific. While containment efforts on the Cambodia–Thailand border have been successful, new foci of resistance are being discovered in other areas of the Greater Mekong Subregion, necessitating a regional containment strategy. A concern, says WHO, is that artemisinin resistance will also develop in Africa, which has the world’s greatest malaria burden.

"It is crucial that efforts are sustained and expanded and that there be more national and international political commitment, resources and support for ongoing research and development for new and better tools to combat emerging threats, such as drug and insecticide resistance," Dr Shin says.

He cites the use of insecticide-treated mosquito nets as a simple, cost-effective tool that has been proven to reduce child deaths by approximately 20% and malaria cases by half. "Successful malaria control improves not only the health of people living in high-risk areas, but also their productivity and overall well being," says Dr Shin.

The spread of counterfeit anti-malarial medicines, particularly in the Greater Mekong Subregion, is also a major challenge. WHO, working with partners such as the INTERPOL, is supporting countries in their efforts to detect and stop the production and distribution of fake medicines.

In Bangkok, Thailand, WHO warned that the fight against malaria was at a tipping point. The gains of recent years are in danger of being lost if international commitment slackens, according to Dr Pascal Ringwald, coordinator for global resistance and containment with the Global Malaria Programme for WHO.

"We need more political support, funding and cooperation between countries," Dr Ringwald said.

Dr Ringwald spoke in the Thai capital while attending a meeting between WHO, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and development partners to address artemisinin resistance and substandard anti-malarial drugs in the Greater Mekong Subregion.

WHO estimates that malaria afflicts 216 million people worldwide and kills 655 000 each year. In the WHO Western Pacific Region, 10 out of 37 countries and areas are endemic for malaria: Cambodia, China, the Lao People's Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, the Republic of Korea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Viet Nam. In 2010 more than 262 000 confirmed malaria cases and about 900 malaria deaths were reported in the Region.

Studies show that more lives can be saved using proven and innovative malaria control tools, including access to effective prevention, accurate diagnosis and prompt, reliable treatment.

Over the past decade, many countries in the Region have successfully reduced the burden of malaria. From 2000 to 2010, the number of confirmed malaria cases was reduced by 37% while malaria deaths declined by 62%. However, many cases and deaths still go unrecorded.

In 2009, the Regional Committee for the Western Pacific, WHO's governing body in the Region, endorsed at its sixtieth session the Regional Action Plan for Malaria Control and Elimination in the Western Pacific (2010–2015), which serves as a road map to guide national programmes.

For more information, please contact:

Dr Eva Maria Christophel
Team Leader, Malaria, other Vectorborne and Parasitic Diseases
Tel: +63 2 528 9725
Mobile: +63 (0)908 880 8746
E-mail: christophele@wpro.who.int

Mr Timothy O'Leary
Public Information Officer
Tel: +63 2 528 9992
Mobile: +63 (0)908 886 8738
E-mail: olearyt@wpro.wpro.who.int

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