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World Malaria Day 2015: Protecting and strengthening gains for a malaria-free future

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MANILA, 24 APRIL 2015 - With the theme “Invest in the future, defeat malaria”, the World Health Organization (WHO) in the Western Pacific Region urges Member States to consolidate recent gains against malaria and accelerate efforts towards a malaria-free Region.

“Governments have realized that each country has a key role to play and that a malaria crisis in one can quickly affect another,” said WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific Dr Shin Young-soo. “Cross-border collaboration is crucial.”

Malaria is a potentially life-threatening disease caused by Plasmodium parasites, which are transmitted through the bite of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes. Early diagnosis and treatment of malaria is critical to prevent deaths. Together with measures to prevent mosquito bites, such as the use of long-lasting insecticidal mosquito nets, effective treatment also contributes to reducing malaria transmission.

Significant gains, encouraging milestones

According to WHO’s World Malaria Report 2014, in the Western Pacific Region all malaria-endemic countries except one decreased confirmed malaria cases by more than 75% between 2000 and 2013. In the same period, the number of deaths from malaria fell by more than 90%.

“These are truly remarkable achievements,” noted Dr Shin. “But translating these milestones into a long-term victory against malaria requires even more collaboration and focused strategies among WHO, governments, donors, civil society organizations and other partners. We cannot afford to be complacent at this crucial point in our journey.”

Globally, an estimated 3.2 billion people remain at risk of malaria infection, with 1.2 billion at high risk. In the Western Pacific Region, 712 million people live in areas at risk of malaria, approximately 40% of the population of the Region.

Malaria transmission is most intense in Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, but is more focused in other countries in the Region, such as in the Greater Mekong Subregion. The disease disproportionately affects ethnic minorities and mobile and migrant populations. Plasmodium falciparum and Plasmodium vivax are the most common malaria parasites. In recent years, Plasmodium knowlesi, a monkey malaria parasite, has accounted for an increasing number of cases, especially in Malaysia.

New strategies for a Region free of malaria

The year 2015 is a pivotal year for malaria. WHO, together with key stakeholders, has developed an ambitious draft Global Technical Strategy for Malaria 2016 -2030, which will help endemic countries reduce the global malaria burden by 90% by 2030. This far-reaching strategy is expected to be endorsed at the World Health Assembly next month.

To address malaria multidrug resistance in the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS), WHO’s South-East Asian and Western Pacific Regions jointly with GMS countries and other stakeholders, drafted the GMS Malaria Elimination Strategy 2015–2030.

This strategy, a six-country effort symbolizing strong partnership and collaboration, will be launched at a side-event during this year’s World Health Assembly. The strategy aims to hasten efforts to address drug resistance and malaria elimination in the Greater Mekong Subregion Member States, focusing on protecting at-risk populations especially vulnerable, mobile and migrant groups and indigenous populations, while preventing the spread of multidrug-resistant malaria.

Late last year at the East Asia Summit, heads of governments pledged their support for an Asia-Pacific region free of malaria by 2030. WHO is providing technical input to the Asia Pacific Leaders Malaria Alliance (APLMA) to develop a high-level roadmap as a guide towards the 2030 goal.

Renewed commitment to tackle remaining challenges

“If malaria multi-drug resistance, including resistance to artemisinin-based combination therapies, worsens and spreads beyond the Greater Mekong Subregion, it could be a disaster. The most effective, currently available anti-malarial medicines could be rendered useless,” warned Dr Eva Christophel, Coordinator of the Malaria, other Vector-borne and Parasitic Diseases programme at the WHO Regional Office for the Western Pacific.

“However, with the new strategies, high-level political commitment and strategic partnerships now in place, we have an historic opportunity to accelerate our efforts to eliminate malaria,” said Dr Christophel. “Strengthened health systems for improved data and the availability of safe and effective medications in the context of Universal Health Coverage are key components."

“Invest in the future: Defeat malaria is a clear call to action. WHO and its partners are already translating words into much-needed action,” concluded Dr Shin. “This action will determine the realization of World Malaria Day's ambitious theme in the years ahead.”

For further information, please contact:

Mr Ruel E. Serrano Public Information Office WHO Regional Office for the Western Pacific Telephone: +632 528 9993 Email: serranor@wpro.who.int