From the Inter Press Service writer Neena Bhandari attended the conference. Our snippet focuses on drug resistant strains of malaria.
Professor Kevin Marsh, director of the Kenya Medical Research Institute Wellcome Trust programme in Kilifi, Kenya, cites the experience of Africa to stress the impact of efforts to fight one of the world’s killer diseases on meeting the MDGs.
"In Africa, if you control malaria, you can reduce childhood mortality down to the levels to achieve MDGs," he says. In coastal Kenya, for instance, malaria has dropped by 90 percent in the last five years and infant childhood deaths have dropped from 115 deaths per 1,000 under-five children to 74 last year, he recounts.
Malaria causes 500 million episodes of illness, almost 40 percent of them in Asia, and one million deaths annually, 90 per cent of them in Africa, says WHO.
"The changing epidemiology of malaria in Southeast Asia, including the emergence and spread of drug-resistant strains of the parasite, are posing fresh challenges to regional elimination efforts," says Professor Ric Price of the Menzies School of Health research in Darwin. "To achieve the ultimate goal of malaria control, we estimate that four to five billion U.S. dollars are needed per year, sustained over the next 20 to 30 years."
Parts of South-east Asia are already witnessing the emergence of malarial strains that are resistant to ‘artemesinins’, drugs the world depends on to treat malaria. If such a situation is not controlled, "it will be a very serious global health issue," warns Marsh, who is also a professor of Tropical Medicine at Oxford University.
There are five species of malaria that commonly infect humans, two of which pose the greatest health risks –‘Plasmodium falciparum’ and ‘P. vivax’ to humans. In Asia, the challenge lies in controlling the ‘P. vivax’ malaria.
The emergence of another species of potentially fatal adult malaria, ‘Plasmodium knowlesi’, has also been noted in the region, particularly in Malaysia. Pig-tailed and long-tailed macaques monkeys are the reservoirs of this parasite, says Timothy William, head of the Infectious Disease Unit at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Sabah, Malaysia.
"It is difficult to treat or eradicate the reservoirs for obvious reasons. In our study, about 30 percent of the cases presented with severe disease. Therefore it is imperative that these cases are diagnosed early and treated," he says.