Dr Shin calls on governments to contain artemisinin-resistant malaria

WHO/E. Christophel
WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific Dr Shin Young-soo at the Malaria 2012: Saving Lives in the Asia-Pacific conference in Sydney, Australia

Governments must tackle the issue of artemisinin-resistant malaria in the Greater Mekong Subregion to prevent it from becoming a global problem, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific Dr Shin Young-soo said at the Malaria 2012: Saving Lives in the Asia-Pacific conference in Sydney, Australia.

"Artemisinin resistance could prove more devastating than anything we have seen in the history of malaria," Dr Shin said. "At WHO, we understand that the people of the Western Pacific Region are counting on all of us to work together to end the suffering caused by malaria."

Hosted by the Government of Australia, the conference gathered representatives of Asian and Pacific governments, international donors, the business sector and nongovernmental organizations. It took place from 31 October to 2 November 2012. The Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) announced that it will spend US$ 103.5 million over the next four years to combat malaria in Asia and the Pacific.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation pledged US$ 10.6 million to WHO over three years for the coordination of an emergency response to artemisinin resistance in the countries of the Greater Mekong Subregion, namely Cambodia, China, the Lao People's Democratic Republic, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam. 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 that will coordinate the regional response to resistance of Plasmodium falciparum malaria parasites to artemisinin derivatives and technically support the response at country level. WHO recommends artemisinin-based combination therapies for uncomplicated malaria.

WHO first warned about emerging artemisinin resistance in 2005, when studies on the Cambodia–Thailand border showed that Plasmodium falciparum parasites took longer to clear from patients' blood. Further evidence of artemisinin resistance emerged in southern and central Viet Nam and south-east Myanmar, and resistance was confirmed in western Thailand bordering Myanmar.

Recently, key donors under the leadership of Australia and WHO jointly assessed the response to artemisinin resistance in the Greater Mekong Subregion, resulting to the development of a regional framework to contain the problem there. The framework is now guiding the response at regional and country levels.

Dr Shin said that the success of antimalarial programmes and health efforts depends on access to quality medicines and technologies that meet international standards. He added that this needs to be complemented by political leadership and collaboration, closing the financing gap, universal coverage of key malaria interventions and accelerating highest priority research.

Dr Shin served on a panel about promoting regional leadership and collaboration. The session highlighted the need for enhanced regional, political, technical and financial cooperation to strengthen Asia and the Pacific's self-sufficiency to address public health threats, such as malaria.

With more than six decades of leadership in health, WHO's technical cooperation in the Western Pacific Region has proven critical to the success of anti-malaria efforts, Dr Shin said. WHO is ready to provide technical support to initiatives that will help fulfil World Health Assembly resolution WHA 58.2 to achieve a 75% reduction in malaria cases and deaths in each malaria-endemic country by 2015.

At the conclusion of the conference, governments pledged to work together to reduce the malaria burden in Asia and the Pacific by 75% by 2015 and to contain artemisinin resistance. By 2025, half of the countries in Asia and the Pacific with malaria today should achieve their malaria elimination targets. Participants of the conference committed to:

  • promote high-level political leadership and collaboration in the Western Pacific Region and establish an Asia-Pacific leaders malaria alliance
  • convene a task force to explore options to close the financing gap
  • convene a task force to expand access to quality medicines and technologies in Asia and the Pacific
  • intensify support for national plans to achieve universal coverage of effective malaria interventions in priority areas, in partnership with key nongovernmental actors and the private sector with immediate priority given to areas where artemisinin resistance has emerged, as well as to vulnerable groups and high-burden areas
  • accelerate highest priority research