Asia-Pacific leaders push towards malaria-free region by 2030

Tuesday, 24 November 2015 11:45 GMT

Malaria tests are seen on a table in the Ta Gay Laung village hall in Hpa-An district in Kayin state, south-eastern Myanmar, November 28, 2014. THOMSON REUTERS FOUNDATION/Astrid Zweynert

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New roadmap accelerates push to end malaria in Asia-Pacific region

Asia-Pacific leaders have taken another concrete step to eliminate malaria by putting their weight behind a detailed plan to end the disease by 2030 which experts say could save more than a million lives and deliver US$ 300 billion in economic benefits.

The APLMA Malaria Elimination Roadmap was endorsed at the weekend by the 18 leaders at the East Asia Summit (EAS)  during their summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The inclusion of malaria among EAS leaders’ discussions on regional security and stability, territorial disputes and economic partnership indicates the importance regional leaders assign to tackling the disease.

“Asia Pacific is facing a silent malaria emergency – one that could have a disastrous impact on the region as a whole, as well as on global health security,” Nafsiah Mboi, envoy of the Asia Pacific Leaders Malaria Alliance (APLMA), an affiliation of Asian and Pacific heads of government formed to accelerate progress against malaria and to eliminate it in the region by 2030, said in a statement.

Eliminating malaria in the Asia-Pacific region would cut the risks of contracting the mosquito-borne for more than half of the world’s population and remove the threat of drug-resistant malaria, which has emerged in Cambodia and Myanmar.

Malaria death rates dropped by 47 percent between 2000 and 2014 worldwide but it still killed some 584,000 people in 2013, most of them in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Much of the success in fighting the disease is due to the use of combination therapies (ACTs) based on artemisinin, a Chinese herb derivative, which is now under threat as malaria parasites have been building up resistance to the drugs. If the spread of artemisinin-resistant malaria parasites were to reach into India it would pose a serious threat to the chances of global control and eradication of the mosquito-borne disease.

The APLMA roadmap presents six actions that leaders can support to accelerate progress towards malaria elimination. The plan was developed in close consultation with leaders and national malaria programmes throughout Asia-Pacific, and with the help of technical experts from the Asian Development Bank, the WHO and many other partner organisations.

The Kuala Lumpur summit also discussed steps to enhance regional health security relating to communicable diseases with epidemic and pandemic potential.

To successfully tackle health security threats, including malaria, the region’s governments, experts – and communities – must be urged to work together in new and unprecedented ways: between countries, across sectors and multiple technical specialties, APLMA said in a joint statement with the Asia Pacific Malaria Elimination Network (APMEN), a group of 18 countries in the region that share a common goal to eliminate malaria, either at the national or sub-national level.

“Having halved deaths from malaria in just 15 years, the failure of the most effective anti-malarial drugs in the Greater Mekong subregion threatens much of that hard-won progress,” Mboi said in the statement.

APLMA is an affiliation of Asian and Pacific heads of government formed to accelerate progress against malaria and to eliminate it in the region by 2030. It was formed by the 2013 East Asia Summit in Brunei due to concerns among leaders about the rising risks of malaria resurgence, in particular due to increasing drug-resistant malaria.

The 18 countries in the APMEN network are Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, India, Indonesia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Nepal, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Republic of Korea, the Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vanuatu and Vietnam.