World Malaria Day 2013
On World Malaria Day 2013, 25 April, we reflect on the progress Australia and our partners have made to combat malaria in our region whilst recognising the challenges that remain.
The Asia–Pacific has made impressive progress in the fight against malaria. Between 2000 and 2010 there was an estimated 25 per cent decrease in the number of malaria cases and an even bigger decrease in the number of deaths.
There are however more than two billion people in the region at risk of contracting the disease and in 2010 there were about 30 million cases and 42,000 malaria deaths. The region also faces the challenge of emerging resistance to medicines and insecticides used in malaria control. Resistance to artemisinin, the core ingredient in the most effective malaria treatment, puts at risk the gains that have been made to date to combat malaria.
Malaria threatens development in the region. Poor people are most vulnerable: they live and work in environments where the risk of malaria infection is high, and are less likely to have access to preventive measures such as mosquito nets. When they fall ill, they might not be able to access or afford treatment.
The tools and interventions used in the fight against malaria are proven and effective: we know how to prevent, diagnose and treat malaria in most settings. In fact, in many countries the elimination of malaria is within reach.
In November 2012 at Malaria 2012: Saving lives in the Asia-Pacific [external website], representatives from over 30 countries and 130 organisations in the Asia–Pacific region agreed to work together to reduce malaria cases and deaths by 75 per cent by 2015 and contain artemisinin resistance. The conference achieved consensus on the need for regional political leadership and collaboration through the formation of the Asia–Pacific Leaders Malaria Alliance, and priority areas for action. We continue to engage with countries of the region, development partners and the UN Special Envoy and work towards the formation of the Leaders Alliance.
High level political commitment to this issue was demonstrated at the 7th East Asia Summit Leaders' meeting in Phnom Penh where our Prime Minister secured agreement to an Australian proposed declaration on malaria elimination and drug resistance: Regional Responses to Malaria Control and Addressing Resistance to Antimalarial Medicines [external website].
Malaria affected countries in our region are demonstrating the commitment to invigorate responses to malaria and to take urgent collective action to contain malaria drug resistance that has emerged in the Greater Mekong sub-region.
The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria is making an important contribution to this effort. The Global Fund has allocated $100 million over two years for a regional initiative to combat drug resistant malaria [external website] in the Greater Mekong Sub-region. This signals Global Fund’s commitment to a regional response and recognition of emerging drug resistance as a major and urgent global public health concern. The World Health Organization’s launch of the Emergency Response to Artemisinin Resistance in the Greater Mekong Sub-region is a welcome, vital scientific framework to guide the regional response. As part of the commitment made at Malaria 2012, Australia has funded, with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the establishment of the regional hub in Cambodia from which WHO activities will be coordinated and technical support to countries in the region to strengthen the emergency response to artemisinin resistance.
In addition the recently signed Memorandum of Understanding between Australia and China identifies malaria as a joint priority. The first project under the MOU commences this month and targets drug resistant malaria in Papua New Guinea.
As well as increasing access to quality drugs and diagnostics, which we know work, Australia is also working to develop new and better tools to improve our ability to combat malaria. Under AusAID’s new Medical Research Strategy, we are beginning to invest in Product Development Partnerships (PDPs). These partnerships are not-for-profit organisations which work to create new drugs, vaccines or diagnostic tests that benefit the poor. AusAID is working with the United Kingdom Department for International Development to make an initial investment in PDPs this year to develop new tools and technologies for malaria.
Australia’s ongoing investment in malaria control and elimination in the region is delivering results. In Myanmar, our contribution of $18.5 million to the Three Disease Fund has enabled treatment for 1.9 million cases of malaria, distribution of 700,000 long lasting insecticide treated bed nets, re-treated 1.5 million insecticide treated nets and the distribution of 2.2 million rapid diagnostic tests.
Our support to the control and elimination of malaria in the Solomon Islands has been a great success, where the rate of malaria has fallen from 199 cases of malaria per 1,000 in 2003 to less than 45 cases per 1,000 in 2012. Also pleasing is the related reduction in malaria related deaths in the Solomon Islands. Fewer Solomon Islanders, including pregnant mothers and infants (who are particularly vulnerable to malaria) are dying of malaria thanks to the Government’s efforts, which our aid program is helping to fund. Similarly, impressive results have been delivered in Vanuatu where the number of malaria cases has dropped by more than two-thirds in the last decade (from over 74 cases per 1000 people in 2003, to less than 13 cases per 1000 people in 2012).
Progress to date has been impressive but accelerated efforts are needed to meet global targets and to contain drug resistant malaria by 2015. Australia looks forward to continued joint efforts with partners in the region to achieve global and national malaria targets in the Asia–Pacific, saving lives and reducing suffering and economic loss.