Drug-resistant parasites threaten global anti-malaria crusade — WHO

Entomologist, Alberto Philipe Machava, holds up a vial of dead mosquitoes in the Djuba village of Mozambique. Photo by: Gates Foundation / CC BY-NC-ND

Despite heightened global initiatives in the last few years to prevent — and even hope to eradicate — malaria cases worldwide, the crusade may be forced to take a step backward if the problem of a new strain of drug-resistant parasites is not addressed.

According to the World Health Organization, the new cases of drug-resistant malaria are a result of faltering commitment from different stakeholders.

“There are a combination of different factors ranging from poor practices regarding the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of malaria,” Klara Tisocki, head of essential medicines and health technologies for WHO in the Western Pacific, told Devex. “From the patient side, failure to complete full course of treatment … can also contribute to a selection of malaria parasites that will spread resistance to … drugs.”

Malaria, considered one of the world’s most deadly but preventable diseases and tagged as a ”public enemy No. 1 in Myanmar, is a global concern. More than half of the world’s population is at risk of vector-borne diseases like malaria and dengue, especially with increasing globalization and international movement of people and goods.

Tisocki stressed that solutions should be dynamic enough to cope with the changing tides of the disease’s situation, which only a “sustainable solution” can address but “will depend on consistent and effective implementation and achievement of goals set for malaria control and elimination” worldwide.

Global initiatives to fight the disease have been numerous, but most are at their infancy stages at best right now, such as the Asian Development Bank’s trust fund launched in October under the Asia-Pacific Leaders Malaria Alliance.

Whether these initiatives are up to the task to address this new issue in fighting malaria remains to be seen.

Joint effort

One of the biggest problems, Tisocki pointed out, is the lack of a concerted approach to see through the malaria prevention (and elimination) process from beginning to end — which also means the need for continued funding, too.

“It is critical to implement the program until full elimination is achieved,” she explained. “Unfortunately, gaps in operational capacity or necessary financing have seen several times of resurgence of malaria in countries where these efforts were not sustainably and consistently implemented. Past experience shows that when funding and consequent national efforts fade, malaria can reemerge.”

The health specialist cited the example of Africa and Asia, where if the drug-resistant strain of the disease remains unchecked, there will be a “reversal of progress made against [malaria], with potential increased mortality and morbidity with consequent social, economic and development costs.”

So how do we solve this? There’s no better way than collaboration and partnerships, according to Tisocki.

“A multi-sectoral approach — involving the private sector [and] different stakeholders [from] societies and affected communities — is critical to tackle all underlying factors that drive the persistence … often disproportionately affecting the poorest and vulnerable segments of societies,” she noted.

In terms of partnerships, private firms and businesses should be well involved in the process as well, according to the specialist, especially in improving access to effective health services and quality-assured medical products — a development process that the private sector can usually deliver.

For the international development community, Tisocki said that two of the biggest assistance that they can give are brains (technical assistance) and money (funding).

“Wherever major financial gaps continue to exist … the commitment of development partners within or outside of the region will remain important to maintain and upscale necessary efforts,” she concluded.

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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.