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Britain commits to tackling malaria resistance in Burma

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Britain is to intensify its work in Burma amid fears that drug-resistant malaria detected in the country could spread to other parts of the globe, with potentially devastating consequences.

Britain will provide additional funding with other donors which could help over a million people this year.

This extra UK support will help:

  • train more than 2,000 health workers and community volunteers to correctly diagnose and treat 166,000 cases of malaria with Atermisinin Combination Therapies (ACTs);
  • supply 350,000 long lasting insecticide-treated bednets to thousands of families and re-treat a further 450,000 bednets; and
  • improve malaria awareness in high risk communities which are most vulnerable to resistance. A five year containment programme has also been launched in the country after the presence of artemisinin-resistant malaria parasites was detected.

The rise of drug-resistant malaria is threatening to render treatments that have saved millions of lives in Africa and Asia over the past decade virtually useless.

Burma has a pivotal role to play in preventing the spread of drug-resistance.

Experts have studied the spread of resistance to previous malaria drugs – chloroquine and mefloquine – and warned that if resistance is not contained it could travel to Africa, following patterns of migration.

International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell said:

"This is a worrying situation. We must act now to combat drug-resistant malaria in Burma, to save lives and prevent the spread of the disease.

"In Burma our approach will enormously increase people's access to accurate diagnosis and effective treatment – and help to prevent malaria in the first place, particularly amongst migrant workers.

"It is simply not acceptable that across the world almost 780,000 people – mainly pregnant women and children – die every year through a disease that is not only curable but preventable."

The first indications of drug resistance came in Cambodia in 2002 and a containment strategy for the Cambodian/Thai border area was set up in 2009.

With technical assistance from the WHO, Burma regularly monitors the effect of anti-malaria drugs in sites across the country.

Latest surveillance shows strong indications of resistance emerging in several areas in eastern Burma along the Thai/Burma border.

Britain is a major funder of the Three Diseases Fund, which is dedicated to tackling TB and HIV/AIDS as well as malaria.

The UK Government is committing £4 million this year to scale up malaria programmes in high risk areas for drug resistance in eastern Burma. Australia, the European Commission, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Denmark are the other partners in the fund.

The additional funding will bring Britain’s total contribution to the Three Diseases Fund’s work in Burma to £34.1 million. The Fund works through the United Nations and reputable NGOs rather than the Burmese government.