World Malaria Day 2011
Dr Shin Young-soo
World Health Organization Regional Director for the Western Pacific
This year’s commemoration of World Malaria Day marks the 10th anniversary of a decade-long effort to reduce the burden of malaria in affected Member States. The global theme for this year is "Achieving progress and impact", and our slogan is ‘‘Progress towards malaria elimination in the Western Pacific”. It is a time to reflect on the achievements made, identify solutions to current and potential challenges, and call on stakeholders to sustain and improve on their commitment, be it financial, political or technical.
In 2006, the United Nations Secretary-General called for universal access to malaria prevention and control by the end of 2010, and elimination of malaria deaths by 2015. This was followed in 2007 by World Health Assembly Resolution WHA60.18 which calls for a broad range of national and international actions to scale up malaria control and elimination programmes. The Regional Committee for the Western Pacific in 2009 endorsed the Regional Action Plan for Malaria Control and Elimination in the Western Pacific (2010–2015). The plan serves as the road map for malaria elimination.
Over the last decade, many countries in the Western Pacific Region have been very successful in reducing the burden of malaria. Between 2000 and 2009, the number of confirmed malaria cases in the Region was reduced by 36%, while malaria deaths declined by 56%. Public-sector health facilities reported 255 593 confirmed cases of malaria and a total of 1031 malaria deaths in 2009. However, many cases and deaths still go unrecorded. Some countries still count fever cases rather than confirmed malaria cases.
Ten of the 37 Western Pacific countries and areas are still endemic for malaria. Two of these, Malaysia and the Republic of Korea, have put in place nationwide elimination programmes. China, the Philippines, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, and most recently, Cambodia and Viet Nam have declared malaria elimination as a national programme goal and are advancing progressively, province-to-province, island-to-island.
Despite the success in the Region, challenges remain. Malaria endemic foci can still be found in many countries, especially Papua New Guinea. Resistance to artemisinin, currently our most important antimalarial medicine, has emerged on the Cambodia-Thailand border and possibly elsewhere and is a serious threat to malaria control and elimination. Vivax malaria may relapse, and more research is needed to improve its treatment. More attention should be devoted to increasing human resources for vector control in many countries. Knowledge of the epidemiology of the disease in different situations is required, including for zoonotic malaria infections which may affect humans. Interventions need to be tailored to various risk groups, vector behaviours, local health infrastructure and environmental conditions.
Malaria elimination in the Western Pacific Region is feasible but will require higher commitment and sustained action by the Member States and partners. Financial resources to fight malaria are increasing in many country programmes, necessitating demand for quality technical support. WHO’s role in maintaining such standards have resource implications. WHO, as the lead ally of government on health issues, will continue to provide the necessary support to Member States on a timely basis.
The next decade will be crucial for the Region, as most countries are working towards malaria elimination. Let us all, as partners in progress, honour our pledges and live up to our commitments.