The World Health Organization warned of “serious challenges” to controlling malaria along the Thai-Cambodian border last week, despite what it called “dramatic progress” in Cambodia.
Scientists working along the border noticed tolerance to artesunate malaria drugs in the deadliest strain of the parasite, plasmodium falciparum, in 2007. Since then, scientists have also noticed initial signs of tolerance along Cambodia’s border with Vietnam and Thailand’s border with Burma.
“We have to be aggressive against the deadly plasmodium falciparum parasite, develop new interventions, improve and encourage human resources engagement, come up with new therapies and secure the best drugs,” said Charles Delacollette, WHO’s Mekong Regional Program coordinator, in a statement on Thursday.
Mr Delacollette also stressed the need for a stronger regional approach to the effort, calling on Asean to “show strong commitment” in helping to contain the disease.
In Cambodia, at least, health workers have racked up some major gains against the parasite thanks to a $22.5 million containment project funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In the western province of Pailin, the most affected by the latest strain of resistance, they found only two cases of falciparum malaria among 5,686 people screened as of Sept 14. In August, the government also reported a two-thirds drop in recorded malaria deaths during the first half of 2010 compared to the same period last year.
And despite an expected surge of cases toward the end of the rainy season, “right now it’s looking very, very good,” said Steven Bjorge, WHO malaria team leader in Cambodia.
But he agreed with Mr Delacollette’s assessment that regional cooperation could stand some improvement.
He said scientists had yet to find evidence of artesunate resistance on Cambodia’s side of the border with Vietnam. But should resistance in Vietnam or Burma be confirmed, he added, “there will have to be more regional coordination.”
Duong Socheat, director of the government’s National Malaria Center, stressed the need to work with Cambodia’s neighbors in tracking migrant workers, a common challenge in fighting the spread of drug resistance.