BETTER funding for the global fight against malaria has begun paying off with a widespread reduction in cases, according to a report issued Wednesday by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
“The World Malaria Report 2009” recognised Cambodia’s improving record on malaria, but also called the emergence of artemisinin-resistant strains in the Thai-Cambodian border area one of the “major threats to achieving global malaria control”.
While the report urged all nations affected by the disease to “prohibit the production, marketing and distribution of counterfeit antimalarial medicines”, its country profile for Cambodia did not mention the issue, which has been tied to drug-resistance since attention was first drawn to the border region this summer.
Instead, the Cambodia entry opened with a less-frequently considered cause of infection rates and the development of resistance: demographics. “Approximately 2 million people live in or around forested areas where there is intense malaria transmission,” the report said. “Soldiers, forestry workers and gem miners are at the highest risk.”
Dr Duong Socheat, director of Cambodia’s National Malaria Centre, said that especially on the Thai-Cambodian border, these mostly poor, undereducated groups also constitute a “highly mobile population … so malaria moves very fast”.
“But it is definitely possible to contain [the new strain],” Duong Socheat said, citing the additional resources made available by a US$22.5 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which the WHO will distribute to both the Thai and Cambodian anti-malaria efforts over the next two years.
Dr Yeang Chheng, a malaria specialist at the WHO in Cambodia, was equally upbeat. “Recently the donations were cut 20 percent, but we are still able to carry out all of our programmes, no problem. It’s sustainable,” he said.