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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Scientists step up malaria fight

Scientists step up malaria fight

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Efforts are under way in Myanmar to scale up the model for combating drug-resistant malaria along the Cambodian-Thai border.  Epidemiologists hope recent political changes in Myanmar will allow them to duplicate the success they have achieved here.

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A study published in the medical journal The Lancet last Friday confirmed years of anecdotal evidence that the deadliest strain of malaria, Plasmodium falciparum, was becoming increasingly resistant to its most effective treatment – the drug artemisinin – along the Thai-Myanmar border.

Dr Steven Bjorge, of the malaria and vector-borne diseases department of the World Health Organisation in Cambodia, said publication of the 10-year study provided formal recognition that drug-resistant malaria was becoming more prevalent in Southeast Asia, but said this fact had been accepted among malaria experts for years.

Bjorge said there was also evidence of drug-resistant malaria along China’s border with Myanmar, as well as in Vietnam’s Bhin Phouc province, which borders Cambodia, but added he was optimistic it could be contained.

“We have shown [in Cambodia] that we can contain, reduce and eliminate malaria through effective health interventions that are diligently applied,” he said.

These included the distribution of insecticide-treated bed nets, early detection by village health volunteers and early treatment.

"If you have the resources and apply them in the right way, you can contain drug-resistant malaria"

Health experts told the Post in December a US$24 million malaria-containment project had begun along the Thai-Myanmar border, and it would draw on prevention, treatment and containment models developed here.

Dr Kheang Soy Ty, chief of University Research Corporation’s malaria containment project in Cambodia, told the Post yesterday the effort in Myanmar was being co-ordinated by USAID officials based in Bangkok.

URC, a partner in the malaria containment effort here, is implementing the effort in Myanmar.

Bjorge said political changes in Myanmar had given health workers “great hope” of duplicating their success.

“In Cambodia, we have shown that if you have the resources and apply them in the right way, you can contain drug-resistant malaria.”

There were nearly 40 per cent fewer cases of malaria in Cambodia last year than in 2010, according to the health ministry.

Between November and the end of February, the ministry distributed 2.7 million insecticide-treated bed nets in 4,000 villages.

The Lancet study did not determine whether the drug-resistant strain of malaria found on the Thai-Myanmar border was the same as the one detected here almost a decade ago.

Some epidemiologists are deeply concerned about drug-resistant malaria reaching Africa, where most of the one million deaths a year from malaria occur.

Artemisinin-based combination therapies are, however, proving effective in treating Plasmodium falciparum malaria and reducing drug resistance.

Efforts are under way globally to shift from relying solely on artemisinin to treat malaria to using it in combination with other drugs.

To contact the reporter on this story: Vincent MacIsaac at vincent.macisaac@phnompenhpost.com

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