The burden of malaria in the Asia-Pacific region, being much lower than that of Africa, has led to some neglect in the past when it comes to rolling back the disease. Two news reports today show why neglect is not an option is global country-by-country elimination os the disease is to be achieved.
Hope was expressed clearly by national Department of Health authorities in the Philippines who exclaimed that “THE Philippines could be malaria-free by 2020 as the number of cases declined by 80 percent in the recent years, the Department of Health (DOH) said on Friday.” The article in the Manila Sun-Star quoted Health Secretary Enrique Ona who said “The government has recorded 9,642 malaria cases in 2011 as compared to 43,441 in 2003.”
A close accounting of the 58 provinces that are considered endemic in the Philippines found that nine have had no cases in the past three years, and forty have been reporting less than 1 case per 1000. While definitely being optimistic about the prospects of overall elimination from the country, the Health Secretary is realistic as quoted by the Sun-Times: “The journey towards elimination status is more difficult than working for a reduction in cases and we will need more commitments and resolutions of the different sectors to be consolidated into a singular, comprehensive initiative so that the whole country, not just the 58 endemic provinces, will be declared malaria-free by 2020.”
The situation in another regional partner is more dire. VOA reports that the problem of malaria drug resistance is “more severe in Cambodia than anywhere else in the world.” The National malaria Center in Cambodia found that, “About 17 percent of all cases in the Cambodian-Thai border area of Pailin were drug-resistant in 2011, up from 10 percent the year before.”
On the positive side, even though the proportion of drug-resistant cases in increasing, the total number of cases continues to decrease. Still, there is concern about ramification of the situation “beyond borders.” Travel and migration among the Mekong region countries means that resistance may not stay put in Pailin. A comprehensive control program, not just reliance on treatment, needs to be in place throughout the region.
Fortunately there are groups like the Asia Pacific Malaria Elimination Network (APMEN) that brings countries in the region together to address common and cross-border challenges. APMEN recognizes that, “Elimination requires a different strategy than sustained control,” and is thus, in am important position to help the rest of the world learn innovative approaches to put paid to malaria.