Statement by Dr Shin Young-soo WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific for World Malaria Day
Today on World Malaria Day, the World Health Organization (WHO) in the Western Pacific Region celebrates more than a decade of significant progress in the fight against malaria. Since 2000, most malaria-endemic countries in the Region reduced their malaria burden by 75%, in line with global goals.
The Western Pacific Region’s accomplishments speak for themselves. In the 10 malaria endemic countries of the Region, malaria cases decreased to 299 000 in 2012 from 396 000 in 2000, a drop of nearly 100 000 cases. At the same time, reported malaria deaths decreased to 460 from 2400.
The Region owes its progress to several factors: strong political commitment, increased financial resources, new and better prevention and diagnostic tools, and the diligent efforts of national malaria control programmes supported technically by WHO and other partners. By scaling up core malaria interventions, ministries of health have provided access to quality diagnostics, effective treatment and prevention, using proven techniques, such as long-lasting insecticidal mosquito nets.
Yet, our message today is one of caution. More than 700 million people in this Region still live in areas at risk of malaria (approximately 40% of the population of this Region). Despite achievements, our progress against malaria is fragile. We must not be complacent. As international financing is shrinking for malaria efforts in this Region, we need to identify new and innovative funding sources and increase domestic funding. Without adequate financing and political commitment, recent gains against this deadly – but preventable – disease can quickly evaporate. If malaria efforts are scaled back, resurgences will occur. Malaria transmission will regain a foothold in many places, affecting the most vulnerable populations.
We also use the occasion of World Malaria Day to draw attention to emerging biological threats, such as drug and insecticide resistance. The development of parasite resistance to artemisinin – the core compound in the WHO-recommended artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT) – in the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) constitutes a particular concern. Artemisinin resistance is now present in five GMS countries. Resistance may spread further if effective control and elimination efforts are not mounted. If we fail, the public health consequences could be dire, because there is no alternative antimalarial medicine available now as effective as ACTs.
To address this problem, on World Malaria Day last year, I launched jointly with the Minister of Health of Cambodia and the WHO Global Malaria Programme Director the Emergency Response to Artemisinin Resistance in the Greater Mekong Subregion: Regional Framework for Action 2013–2015. To coordinate and facilitate the priority actions at country and regional levels outlined in this framework, I also inaugurated – with the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade of the Government of Australia – a WHO regional hub in Cambodia, dedicated to the implementation of this emergency response. This effort, aided by an increasing number of partners, seeks to sustain the fight against artemisinin resistance in the GMS and beyond.
“Invest in the future. Defeat malaria.” is the global campaign’s theme. On World Malaria Day, WHO in the Western Pacific Region recognizes that defeating malaria is critical to improving health, reducing poverty and supporting economic development, and remains committed to helping countries and working closely with all partners to face the challenges and move ahead. Together, we can reach the vision of a Region free from malaria.