Saturday, November 03, 2012

Malarial disease threat on Australia's doorstep

By Rick Morton  from The Australian


THE deadly, mosquito-borne disease malaria remains a potent threat on Australia's doorstep where countries like Indonesia and Papua New Guinea need extra help to fight it, a report has found.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) founded the Roll Back Malaria (RBM) Partnership to take on the global fight and authored a report studying the effects of the disease battle outside of Africa, where it has long been at its most destructive.

Australia has pledged $100 million over the next four years to fight malaria in the Asia-Pacific, part of a bid to save 70,000 lives by 2015.

The funding includes $14.5 million to combat drug-resistant malaria in the Greater Mekong region of Asia, which threatens to drastically increase the disease's annual global death toll of at least 650,000.

A further $20 million will go specifically to three Pacific nations most affected by malaria - the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea.

Another $10 million has been earmarked for research under Australia's aid program.

The move was announced by Foreign Minister Bob Carr at a malaria conference in Sydney.

It's part of collaborative efforts to provide 276 million insecticide-treated mosquito nets, two billion rapid diagnostic tests and 47 million quality malaria drug treatments.

The Asia-Pacific is the second worst-hit part of the world, recording 30 million cases of malaria and 42,000 deaths in 2010.

Africa suffers the most, and experts at the conference have warned of a 25 per cent jump in mortality rates if drug-resistant malaria reaches the continent from Asia.

Drug resistance is caused by wrong treatments, patients not completing their treatments and the use of sub-standard and counterfeit drugs.

RBM Executive Director, Dr. Fatoumata Nafo-Traor, said the burden of malaria was significant and needed political action immediately.

"In the face of persistent economic uncertainty and profound changes in the landscape of global development aid, the region needs strong political leadership," he said.

"It also needs to develop financing strategies that include substantive and sustained domestic investment, traditional multilateral and bilateral aid and truly innovative sources of funding."

Millennium Development Goals, agreed to in principle by the Australian government, hope to reduce the "burden" of malaria by three-quarters by 2015.

Foreign Affairs Minister Bob Carr, in Sydney for the final day of the Malaria 2012: Saving Lives in the Asia Pacific conference, said action was needed in the region.

"We're pursuing the target of a 75 per cent reduction in malaria cases and deaths in the Asia-Pacific by 2015," he said.

"Malaria does not respect borders. Our focus must be on cross-regional action alongside traditional single-country strategies."

"Today's meeting is an opportunity for Asia-Pacific leaders to coordinate efforts in controlling or eliminating the spread of malaria."

Malaria persists in poor, often regional areas, and is usually easily preventable, though resistance to malarial drugs is building.

"Antimalarial drug resistance is one of the greatest challenges to continued success in controlling and eliminating malaria in the Asia-Pacific," said Dr. Robert Newman, Director of the WHO's Global Malaria Programme

"There is an urgent need for coordinated action against this public health threat. It will be critical to galvanise political action and secure investments to implement an emergency response plan for the Greater Mekong Subregion."


Additional reporting: AAP

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