WHO Asia-Pacific Countries Pledge To Use Artemisinin With Other Drugs By 2015 To Prevent Drug-Resistance

On Wednesday, nine of the 10 countries in the WHO’s Asia-Pacific region “that suffer most” from malaria pledged to phase out the use of artemisinin-only to treat malaria and use it in combination with other drugs by 2015, Reuters reports (Lyn, 9/23).

At the annual general meeting of the Regional Committee for the Western Pacific in Hong Kong, Shin Young-soo, WHO regional director for the Western Pacific, warned that a strain of malaria, present on the Cambodian-Thai border, is becoming increasingly resistant to artemisinin and could evolve into a significant global health threat if countries don’t prevent it from spreading to other regions,  Deutsche Presse-Agentur/MonstersandCritics.com reports.

Shin issued his warning in a report and said, “Artemisinin-resistance needs urgent containment to prevent further spread of drug resistance.” The spread of counterfeit malaria drugs in the region is contributing to the problem, he said (9/23).

“The best way to prolong the use of [artemisinin] would be to use it in combination with other antimalarial drugs,” Reuters reports. To contain the problem, “[e]xperts have been calling for combined therapy … all endemic countries in the region, except one, have adopted (the plan) and we are hoping to get the 10th pretty soon,” said John Ehrenberg, WHO regional adviser on malaria and other vectorborne and parasitic diseases. “The 10 countries are Cambodia, China, Laos, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, South Korea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Vietnam. In 2008, these 10 states reported 248,141 confirmed cases of malaria and 1,005 deaths,” the news service writes (9/23).

According to the news service, “Shin said the successful elimination of malaria would rely on increasing malaria-control activities which would require more funding.” He recommended that countries in the region include malaria elimination efforts into health programs and that “significant funding and human resources” should be allocated to “achieve this target,” Deutsche Presse-Agentur/MonstersandCritics.com (9/23).

In related news, a Lancet Infectious Diseases Newsdesk article reports on a recent London International Development Centre meeting where “researchers highlighted the possibility that prescribing behaviour in developing countries means that many people without malaria receive antimalarials, raising the risk of resistance and side-effects.”

According to the article, malaria overdiagnosis is becoming more of an issue in Africa “spurred on partly by economic issues: cheap antimalarial drugs have now been replaced almost everywhere by the more expensive artemisinin and its derivatives.” Experts at the meeting discussed improving malaria diagnostic methods and incorporating rapid diagnostic tests (Sansom, 10/09).

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