Drug-resistant malaria in Myanmar: A call for increased funding to prevent a global catastrophe

We are happy to re-post a blog by Alice Sowinski, Craigen Nes, and Diane Del Pozo in the SBFPHC Policy Advocacy Blog of the Social and Behavioral Foundations of Primary Health Care Course at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health….

The CDC estimates there are 198 million cases of malaria that occur worldwide with more than 500,000 people dying from the disease every year. Although this disease has slowly declined in recent years, experts believe that certain endemic areas could still be at high risk for drug resistance. One such area includes Myanmar, a Southeast Asian region located on the border between India and China.

myanmar malaria map

Myanmar is a high-risk area for artemisinin resistant malaria

Over 76% of Myanmar’s population lives in regions stricken with poverty and poor health infrastructure that contribute to the mass spread of disease in areas where malaria is endemic. This area in particular is becoming resistant to artemisinin, the first line of defense. Experts suggest Myanmar is a priority region for the elimination of artemisinin resistant malaria (ARM) in order to avoid the international disaster that would result if ARM were to spread to India and Africa. Immediate and large-scale action along with substantial financial support from multiple stakeholders is needed to prevent further spread of ARM and avoid a looming malaria catastrophe.

The Burmese government estimates that it will need US$1.2 billion over the next 15 years or $80 million per annum. The proposed solution would strengthen surveillance, increase rapid diagnostic testing and create new drugs to combat ARM. However, recently the Australian government, one of the 3MDG Fund donors, the largest development fund in Myanmar, has decided to cancel its pledged sum of $42 million in aid to the country. The implications of this withdrawal are uncertain and untimely.

With the ability of the malaria parasite to thwart off once effective drugs, the fear of widespread resistance is now a reality. Scientists believe we have a small window of opportunity to support Myanmar’s national campaign to increase funding to prevent a global health disaster and achieve Myanmar’s 2030 malaria elimination goals.

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