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Fighting malaria’s border war

Fighting malaria’s border war

7 mosquito net pha lina

On world Malaria Day yesterday, the World Health Organization launched a major “emergency response” program to fight drug-resistant malaria in Cambodia and five neighbouring countries, announcing the program in Phnom Penh, which is to be the effort’s co-ordinating hub.

The three-year program, backed by AusAid and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has a projected budget of $400 million and will focus on a strain of malaria resistant to the drug artemisinin in Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and China’s Guangxi and Yunnan provinces, WHO representatives said yesterday.

Artemisinin is usually the most effective means of combatting malaria, but a joint assessment conducted by the WHO and donor partners in 2011-2012 found several sites of artemisinin-resistant malaria on or near the Myanmar-Thai, Thai-Cambodian and Cambodian-Vietnamese borders.  

This concentration of resistance at borders meant a co-ordinated regional program was particularly necessary, said Dr Robert Newman, director of the WHO’s Global Malaria Program.

“This is a problem that emerges along national frontiers, where people often don’t have access to public health services,” he said.

Consequently, he said, it is impoverished families and migrants that tend to be most vulnerable to the disease, and the new program will attempt to provide these populations with more accessible testing and treatment with drug combinations tailored to controlling resistance.   

The program will also employ a broad range of other strategies, including scaling up distribution of insecticide-treated nets and using the program’s Phnom Penh office to co-ordinate monitoring, data collection, distribution of materials and the like between various countries and organisations.

This “emergency response” program will complement existing national efforts at eliminating malaria – a goal Cambodia has set for 2025 – said Minister of Health Mam Bunheng.

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