Asia-Pacific's fight against malaria gets a boost from Australia

Blood extraction during a malaria campaign in Phnom Dambang village, Cambodia. Australia is contributing $16 million to the Asia-Pacific Leaders Malaria Alliance initiative to fight the mosquito-borne disease. Photo by: Gates Foundation / CC BY-NC-ND

The fight to eradicate malaria in Asia-Pacific has been given a significant boost following Australia’s latest $16 million commitment to the region’s multi-donor trust fund against the mosquito-borne disease.

The trust fund, part of a larger initiative called the Asia-Pacific Leaders Malaria Alliance convened last October during the annual East Asia Summit, now has about $36 million in contributions after the United Kingdom earlier pledged about $20 million. APLMA is currently co-chaired by Australia and Vietnam, while the trust fund itself is managed by the Asian Development Bank.

In a statement, Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop said her country’s contribution will mainly focus on two things: containing malaria drug resistance and funding anti-malaria programs.

“The fund will focus on supporting efforts to contain the spread of drug resistant strains of malaria, an enormous challenge in the Mekong sub-region,” Bishop said. “It will also provide financing for innovative programs to assist malaria-affected countries in Asia-Pacific to achieve their national malaria reduction targets.”

The issue of malaria has been a chronic problem worldwide. According to the World Health Organization, almost 3.5 billion people around the world are at risk of contracting the disease, 60 percent from this region — a grim picture that the ADB, along with other development partners, plans to address using the alliance and the trust fund.

“It is vitally important to engage everyone, especially the development community because as we try to eliminate [malaria] and contain drug resistance, it will require a lot of integration with a lot of other activities,” Patricia Moser, ADB’s lead health specialist, told Devex.

She added: “The two institutions are equally important because one is putting the leaders together and the trust fund will finance the economic and development assessment work needed to improve [initiatives to fight malaria].”

Shared responsibility

For Moser, the fight to reduce and eventually eliminate malaria incidence in the region is a shared responsibility of all the countries and stakeholders not only in Asia-Pacific but the rest of the world, explaining that malaria cases are not geographically specific which makes everyone vulnerable to contracting it.

“Our interest in malaria and other communicable diseases is that they are regional public goods. So the benefits of reducing malaria accrue to all the countries in the region, not just to the country that’s eliminating malaria,” the health specialist said. “If I eliminate malaria and my neighbor does not, I have a problem. So this is a [situation] of mutual interest in the region.”

The goal of the trust fund and the alliance is to reduce malaria incidence in the whole region by 75 percent in 2015, but many countries are still far from the upheld standard. Moser cited the case of Papua New Guinea, where poverty and lack of basic health services make it harder to attain the minimum threshold.

Members of the APLMA are encouraging the international development community to pitch in to the trust fund, the health expert noted, adding there is no specific threshold given especially to developing nations — except for the $5 million minimum set for bilateral donors — so “everyone [can] contribute what they can.”

The funding gap to fight malaria is huge. Moser said that to finance anti-malaria programs in the Mekong sub-region alone, it would take around $200 million a year, while in Southeast Asia, WHO said $450 million will be needed — what more in the whole Asia-Pacific region?

But how do we fully eradicate malaria? ADB’s health expert said commitment and financing are key.

“In order for all countries to contain malaria, it’s really important for all of the countries to continue to move to reduction, elimination and control of drug resistance of malaria,” she noted, adding that the $36 million committed by both the U.K. and Australia are considered cornerstone financing to jumpstart the whole malaria financing mechanism in the region.

Moser concluded: “What we want to do is improve the quality [of drugs] and expel ‘monotherapy’ or the persistence of one drug in the market because they push drug resistance of malaria, [all the while aiming for] regional cooperation on making [the initiatives] more effective.”

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About the author

  • Lean Alfred Santos

    Lean Alfred Santos is a former Devex development reporter focusing on the development community in Asia-Pacific, including major players such as the Asian Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. He previously covered Philippine and international business and economic news, sports and politics.