Concerns over malaria along Thailand’s borders with Cambodia and Burma have prompted Thai officials to issue warnings to their troops stationed in those areas, the Bangkok Post reported Monday.
According to the report, Lieutenant General Preeyapas Nilubol, chief of the Thai military’s medical department, blamed a resurgence of malaria in Thailand on refugees from Burma and Cambodia. As long as the soldiers were stationed at the border, they are at grave risk, the general told the paper.
Dr Stefan Hoyer, malaria control officer for the World Health Organization in Cambodia, said 15 percent of the malaria found in Thailand comes from Cambodia. The other 85 percent of malaria in Thailand comes from near the Burma border.
Nilubol told the Post that he was particularly concerned with soldiers getting malaria in Tak, along the Burmese border.
In Cambodia, the border areas have long been rife with a drug-resistant strain of the malaria parasite, which is transmitted by mosquitoes.
Drug resistance was first detected in 1959 around Pailin, Hoyer said, where the common malaria remedy, chloroquine, was found ineffective. “It is the epicenter of drug resistance. [Malaria drug resistance] is one of the things where Cambodia is No 1 in the world,” Hoyer said.
The problem lies in wide availability of malaria drugs in Thailand, so individuals treat themselves for the disease in ways that give the malaria parasite a chance to become resistant to the drugs—a situation Hoyer termed as “drug pressure.”
The migrant worker population in the border areas is especially susceptible to the drug resistance, Hoyer said. “The people go into the gem-mining areas and when they come out they go get malaria drugs”—whether or not they have actually contracted the disease, he said.
Hoyer said WHO and USAID will be initiating a program this year to limit the spread of drug-resistant strains of malaria. The effort will include promotion of prepackaged malaria drugs and the use of dipstick tests, which can instantly determine the presence of the malaria parasite in the bloodstream.
The effort has received the particular support of the US Congress, which has backed the program as part of its $50 million worldwide emerging disease initiative, Hoyer said.