WHO hails political leaders' support for malaria plan
MANILA, 23 November 2012 - The World Health Organization (WHO) today hailed a commitment by leaders at the 7th East Asia Summit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, to throw their support behind the drive against malaria in the Region.
The leaders, including President Barack Obama of the United States of America, pledged their governments' backing for efforts to reduce malaria cases and deaths by 75% by 2015, and to contain resistance to antimalarial medicines.
The meeting highlighted WHO's important role in working with countries to develop technical responses to malaria control and elimination, while warning that malaria remained a major cause of death and illness in the Region. Malaria is found in 22 countries in the Asia Pacific, with more than 2 billion people at risk for the disease.
Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific, hailed the leaders' commitment. He said WHO would be "re-energized" in its efforts to tackle malaria. "We see the call to action by the leaders in Phnom Penh as a watershed moment in our struggle."
The summit recognized, in particular, the need to tackle the growing threat from resistance to antimalarial medicines, especially to the frontline drug artemisinin, which is critical to the effectiveness of artemisinin-based combination therapies. In a formal declaration, the leaders warned that resistance to artemisinin "threatens the considerable gains made in malaria control in the region, and its possible spread represents a major threat to national, regional and global malaria control".
The leaders expressed their support for the WHO Global Plan for Artemisinin Resistance Containment published in 2011. They pledged to strengthen national and regional responses to antimalarial medicines drug resistance through bilateral, regional and multilateral channels.
The 20 November summit was attended by heads of state or government of the Member States of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation and the United States of America.
Dr Shin said the meeting was pivotal in the regional battle against malaria and would greatly assist the Organization in its work to help contain resistance to artemisinin. "The pledge in Phnom Penh comes on the back of a number of welcome developments in recent months that have given a significant boost to our efforts," he said.
Dr Shin cited the high-level malaria conference organized by the Australian government in Sydney last month, at which the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) pledged US$ 103.5 million over the next four years to combat malaria in the Asia Pacific.
In October, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation pledged US$ 10.6 million to WHO over a three-year period for the coordination of an emergency response to artemisinin resistance in the Greater Mekong Subregion, which consists of Cambodia, parts of China, the Lao People's Democratic Republic, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam. At the Sydney conference, AusAID announced it would co-fund this programme with US$ 5.2 million over the next two years.
The total funding of US$ 15.8 million will support a team of technical experts to work with national malaria control programmes and their partners. Staff will be based in WHO country offices in the Greater Mekong Subregion, with the coordination team working out of Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
The focus of the response will be four priority areas: full coverage of quality interventions in priority areas; tighter coordination and management of field operations; better information for artemisinin resistance containment; and regional oversight and support.
The WHO response will be biregional, with the Western Pacific and South-East Asia regional offices working together. "This cooperation is a vivid reflection of the seriousness with which WHO and its partners view the threat from artemisinin resistance," Dr Shin said.
Similar concern was expressed at a meeting of ASEAN health ministers in Phuket, Thailand, in July. Ministers pledged to mobilize resources at national, regional and international levels to tackle health priorities, including artemisinin-resistant malaria.
"The forces are coming together at the right time," said Dr Shin. "We now have a genuine opportunity to put malaria on the run."
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Mr Timothy O'Leary
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