Scale up measures to counter artemisinin-resistant malaria, WHO urges

News release

The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that measures to stop the spread of malaria parasites resistant to the drug artemisinin need to be expanded following growing evidence that resistance has now emerged in southern and central Viet Nam and in southeastern Myanmar. This follows confirmation of artemisinin resistance on Cambodia’s and Myanmar’s borders with Thailand.

Addressing the WHO Regional Committee for the Western Pacific, Regional Director Dr Shin Young-soo emphasized the need to "urgently address this issue before we put at risk not only the fragile gains we have made in malaria control but also our goal of a malaria-free Western Pacific Region".

The biggest challenge is the development of resistance of Plasmodium falciparum parasites to artemisinin derivatives, which are the most effective treatments for malaria. WHO first warned about emerging artemisinin resistance in 2005, when studies on the Cambodia-Thailand border showed that these parasites took longer to clear from the blood of patients.

Malaria is still endemic in 10 of the 37 countries and areas in the Western Pacific Region. Significant progress has been achieved, with the number of confirmed malaria cases reduced by 34% and malaria deaths by 62% from 2000 to 2010. But WHO warns that if the momentum to control the mosquito-borne disease is not sustained, there is potential for artemisinin resistance to spread to other endemic countries in the Region and beyond.

"We need political commitment at the highest level in affected countries to contain and eliminate these resistant parasites," Dr Shin said. "A country-by-country approach alone will not work. We must work across borders with the support of the international community to sustain the gains we've made over the past three decades."

Dr Shin urged countries in the Greater Mekong Subregion to intensify and expand operations to contain and eliminate artemisinin-resistant malaria based on WHO's Global Plan for Artemisinin Resistance Containment.

Actions in the global plan include:

  • eliminating oral artemisinin monotherapies, which are major factors in the development of artemisinin resistance and are still produced despite WHO's call in 2006 to stop their use for treatment of uncomplicated malaria;
  • monitoring the quality of antimalarial medicines;
  • stopping counterfeit drugs, which are another major factor in the development of artemisinin resistance;
  • ensuring universal access to specific diagnosis, safe-quality medicines and malaria prevention.
  • securing financial resources; and
  • strengthening coordination within and between countries.

The Regional Committee meets once a year to review WHO's work in the Region and to set new health directions.

For more information or request to interview, please contact:

Ms Marilu Lingad
Mobile (Viet Nam): +84 (0)1272643638
Mobile (Philippines): +63 908 891 4532;
E-mail: lingadm@wpro.who.int

Mr Timothy O'Leary
Mobile (Viet Nam): +84 (0)1252093845
Mobile (Philippines): +63 908 886 8738
E-mail: olearyt@wpro.who.int

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