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13 March 2014
Some of the world's foremost malaria experts, meeting in Sydney this week, have warned that failure to act on the growing resistance to the first line drug for malaria, artemisinin, will set back efforts to reduce and eliminate malaria in the Asia Pacific region.
The call for urgent action came from members of the Access to Quality Medicines and other Technologies Taskforce which advises the Asia Pacific Leaders Malaria Alliance (APLMA).
The meeting, co chaired by the Secretary of the Australian Department of Health, Professor Jane Halton, and the Secretary of the Indian Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Mr Lov Verma, gave support for a global campaign to ban the use of artemisinin alone as a treatment for malaria in an attempt to defeat the disease in vulnerable communities. Artemisinin needs to be used in combination with other anti-malarial drugs to stop resistance developing.
Globally, there were about 207 million cases of malaria in 2012 and an estimated 627,000 deaths. Most deaths occur among children living in Africa where a child dies every minute from malaria.
"However, in our own Asia Pacific region there are around 36 million cases and around 49,000 deaths each year and tackling this major health threat to our near neighbours requires concerted efforts," Professor Jane Halton said at the conclusion of the meeting today.
"Despite evidence of the dangers of resistance emerging, artemisinin is still commonly used as a mono treatment for malaria supplied through private markets in the region," Professor Halton added. "The Taskforce has discussed a number of ways to effectively ban monotherapies and ensure vulnerable people can access preventive measures and best practice treatments."
"The meeting discussed the potential for international networks of drug regulators and laboratories working with the World Health Organization to better ensure the quality of diagnostics, medicines and other anti-malarial products," Professor Halton said.
"We also discussed innovative ways to get products to remote areas and vulnerable populations, including through private and informal markets."
"We need to keep the pressure on to reduce and eliminate malaria. Business as usual approaches won't work", Professor Halton said.
The group agreed to meet again in June 2014 to finalise its recommendations before it reports to leaders in August.
The meeting in Sydney was supported by the Asian Development Bank with funding from the Australian aid programme administered by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
The aim is to reduce malaria cases and deaths in the region by 75 per cent from 2000 levels by 2015 as a milestone on the way to elimination of the disease.
The meeting builds on significant work by the Australian Government to support malaria reduction efforts in the region, including a recent grant of $18 million to the newly established Regional Malaria and Other Communicable Disease Threats Trust Fund to support regional cooperation to tackle malaria.
Media contact: Kay McNiece, Australian Department of Health - 0412132585