Scale-up Meets Resistance

News this week from The Lancet confirming suspicions of malaria parasite resistance to artemisinin-based drugs deals a double blow to malaria control efforts coming just a few months after announcements by Global Fund to cancel Round 11 funding.  Pressure on malaria drugs is nothing new, especially since the same problem has arisen in the same region of the world for two previous and cheaper mainstays of malaria case management.

In all our hopes for rolling back malaria over the past 14 years, did we tell ourselves that such resistance was this time not inevitable?   Unlike in previous waves of resistance, this time we should have been better prepared with effective anti-vector measures. BUT this assumes that we have met our RBM targets and are happily progressing toward 2015 expecting no more malaria deaths.

We get reports that scale-up and case reduction are occurring, such as a recent newspaper article from Jigawa State in Nigeria, but basically we have not achieved our 2010 scale-up targets – so what will come first – 2015 success or the wave of parasite resistance spreading out from Southeast Asia?

The hopes of the current RBM effort were based on the fact that by 2000 we had 3-4 effective anti-malaria interventions, unlike the reliance on mainly one during the first stab at eradication.  Unfortunately the question is still the same as it was in the 1950s-60s – are our health systems strong enough to deliver the goods? More effective interventions that do not reach people will not present a strong bulwark against spreading drug resistance.

mali-net-given-to-community-health-agent-2.jpgFrustration may mount even more when we realize that all the insecticide treated nets distributed over the prolonged period of campaigns from 2009-2012 will need to be replaced, mostly well before 2015.  Our coverage to date has not been adequate, our funding is threatened – what guarantees that we can keep up with adequately containing malaria before the resistant strains of the parasite reach Africa where the bulk of cases and deaths occur?

Some of our ‘easy’ eradication targets like guinea worm and polio are still flaunting their capacity to harm.  These like other previous efforts are at risk from donor fatigue.  Malaria, which is more complex than those two diseases, is at even greater risk. The RBM Partnership needs to develop a serious and workable strategy to get well ahead to the resistance wave NOW.

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