WHO Launches Malaria Emergency Response in Southeast Asia

The agency also highlighted the threat of antimalarial drug resistance in the Greater Mekong subregion, where the emergency response has begun.

The World Health Organization has launched an Emergency Response to Artemisinin Resistance in Phnom Penh at an event hosted by the Cambodian Ministry of Health. It builds on WHO's 2011 global plan for artemisinin resistance containment and will guide a major scale-up of WHO-recommended strategies to combat this public health threat.

The framework urges affected countries to remove poor-quality antimalarial drugs and oral artemisinin-based monotherapies from circulation. According to WHO's latest assessment this month, at least 31 companies around the world are still marketing such monotherapies. Globally, 44 countries have withdrawn marketing authorization for these pills, but 14 countries continue to allow their marketing.

"In recent years endemic countries, including countries in sub-Saharan Africa, have made major headway in reducing new cases and deaths from malaria," said Dr. Hiroki Nakatani, WHO's assistant director-general for HIV, TB, Malaria and Neglected Tropical Diseases. "But that progress could now be at risk. We are increasingly concerned by signs in the southeast Asia region that the malaria parasite is becoming resistant to some of the drugs that have helped make so much progress."

The current treatment of choice is artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs), but resistance to artemisinins has now been identified in Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand, and Viet Nam. "The consequences of widespread resistance to artemisinins would be catastrophic," said Dr. Robert Newman, director of WHO's Global Malaria Programme. "We must act now to protect southeast Asia today and sub-Saharan Africa tomorrow."

There are no replacement products on the immediate horizon, according to WHO.

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