THE World Health Organisation yesterday launched a global plan to halt the spread of drug-resistant malaria strains that have emerged along the Cambodian-Thai border, threatening the world’s “most potent” treatment for the disease.
The plan’s goal is to preserve the use of artemisinin-based combination therapies, or ACTs, the most effective way to treat malaria’s most deadly strain.
The WHO identified artemisinin-resistant parasites in early 2009 along the Cambodian-Thai border. It suspects but has not confirmed they have spread to other countries, including Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.
“If these treatments fail, many countries will have nothing to fall back on,” the WHO warned in a statement.
Only 31 out of the 75 countries that should have been testing for resistance to ACTs actually did so in 2010, the WHO said.
Global efforts to contain and prevent the spread of artemisinin-resistant malaria would require US$175 million annually, according to the WHO.
The plan calls for $2.7 to $5.4 million in funds for the 270,000 living in parts of Cambodia with drug-resistant malaria strains, including all of Pailin and parts of Battambang, Pursat and Kampot provinces.
An additional $32 to $40 million is needed for the estimated 4 million people in nine provinces who are also deemed “at risk” of infection.
Steven Bjorge, WHO team leader for malaria in Cambodia, said health workers will “continue the steps that have been taken in the last year-and-a-half to contain the drug-resistant malaria”.
Those efforts involve a high level of mosquito bed net coverage, a free volunteer-based rapid-diagnosis system, availability of ACTs at local health centres and a crackdown on substandard drugs, he said.
“We’ve achieved nearly 100 percent bed net coverage, especially in the Thai-border area,” Bjorge said. Nets last about three years.
Last year, health workers introduced a new combination of drugs, dihydroartemisinin and piperaquine, which they will start to use throughout Cambodia this year.
Bjorge said they were not yet sure how fast ACT-resistant parasites were spreading, “so it’s going to be a big focus”.
“The problem, in Western Cambodia, is largely in mobile and migrant populations. Many of the people at risk are people working either in the forest or working in plantations,” he said.
Sending workers out to mobile encampments and distributing mosquito nets to plantation owners are two ways in which Bjorge said health workers are attempting to address that challenge.