“Growing resistance to a key anti-malarial drug derived from a shrub used in traditional Chinese medicine is threatening to roll back gains made in combating the disease,” according to experts attending a U.N.-sponsored malaria conference that concluded on Friday in Sydney, Australia, the U.N. News Centre reports. Malaria “therapies based on artemisinin — an extract from the sweet wormwood bush used for centuries in Chinese medicine as a fever cure — were” formulated in combination with other antimalarials to form artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs) that the WHO thought would be effective for years, but resistance to the ACTs has begun to appear in some areas, the news service notes. “Specifically, [the Roll Back Malaria Partnership] noted, artemisinin resistance has been detected in Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam,” the news service writes (11/2). Agence France-Presse examines efforts to fight drug-resistant malaria on the Thai-Myanmar border (Rook, 11/4).
Asia-Pacific Accounts For Second Highest Burden Of Malaria Outside Of Africa, RBM Partnership Report Says
At a meeting of leading malaria scientists, political leaders, and health experts in Sydney on Friday, the Roll Back Malaria Partnership released a new report (.pdf) showing that more than two billion people in the Asia-Pacific region are at risk of the disease, Agence France-Presse reports. “There were some 34 million cases of malaria outside Africa in 2010, claiming the lives of an estimated 46,000 people,” the news agency notes, adding, “The Asia-Pacific, which includes 20 malaria-endemic countries, accounted for 88 percent, or 30 million, of these cases and 91 percent, or 42,000, of the deaths” (Parry, 11/2).
“More than 200 health experts have gathered in Sydney for a three-day conference to bolster political commitment to tackle the spread of malaria,” IRIN reports (10/31). “‘Malaria 2012: Saving Lives in the Pacific’ is being co-hosted by [Australian] Foreign Minister Bob Carr and United Nations Special Envoy for Malaria Ray Chambers,” according to an AusAID press release, which adds, “The conference, which is being convened by AusAID, begins on Wednesday with two days of technical and policy discussion, culminating on Friday 2 November with a ministerial action meeting” (10/30). “‘There were 30 million [malaria] cases and 42,000 deaths reported in Asia [in 2010] so we aim to achieve greater regional collaboration and coordinated efforts from this conference,’ Fatoumata Nafo-Traore, executive director of Roll Back Malaria Partnership, told IRIN,” the news service notes (10/31).
“Drug-resistant malaria is spreading in Asia, experts warned as a high-level conference opened Wednesday with the aim of hammering out an action plan to strengthen the region’s response,” Agence France-Presse reports. “Resistance to the drug used everywhere to cure the life-threatening disease has emerged in Cambodia, Thailand and Myanmar,” Richard Feachem, director of global health at the University of California, San Francisco and former head of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, said, according to the news service. “The danger is that at some time this resistance may break out of Southeast Asia and crop up in Africa,” he added, AFP writes. Feachem spoke ahead of the “Malaria 2012: Saving Lives in the Asia-Pacific” conference in Sydney, which “will seek consensus on the actions needed to strengthen the region’s response to malaria,” according to AFP (Coorey, 10/31).
During a meeting with UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe on Tuesday, Indonesia Minister of Health Nafsiah Mboi “pledged to scale up HIV testing and treatment programs” with a “focus on 141 districts where key affected populations are the highest,” a UNAIDS feature story reports. “Indonesia also plans to become one of several countries in the region to offer universal health care by 2014,” with HIV treatment to be covered, according to the health ministry, UNAIDS notes. Sidibe said, “Indonesia is a key partner in the drive to end the AIDS epidemic. … Universal health coverage is a game changer for Indonesia. I am delighted to know that HIV treatment will be included in this national program. This sets the stage for sustainable funding of HIV programs,” the article states. “The Ministry of Health estimates that more than 600,000 people are living with HIV and that there are more than 76,000 new HIV infections each year,” according to UNAIDS, which adds, “Currently HIV treatment coverage is at less than 20 percent” (10/23).
Using data from cancer registries worldwide, researchers from the International Agency for Cancer Research (IACR) found that 169.3 million years of healthy life were lost to cancer in 2008, according to a study published on Tuesday in the Lancet, HealthDay News reports. Using “a measure called disability-adjusted life-years (DALYs) to assess not only the impact of fatal cancer, but also the effects of disabilities among cancer survivors,” the researchers also found men in Eastern Europe and women in sub-Saharan Africa had the largest cancer burden worldwide; increased access to treatment has not improved survival outcomes for several common cancers; and lower-income countries have higher average levels of premature death due to cancer, while higher-income countries have higher average levels of cancer-related disability and impairment, according to the news service. Study co-author Freddie Bray, deputy head of the IARC Cancer Information Section, said in a Lancet press release, “Our findings illustrate quite starkly how cancer is already a barrier to sustainable development in many of the poorest countries across the world and this will only be exacerbated in the coming years if cancer control is neglected,” the news service notes (10/15).
“Achieving the first Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of halving the prevalence of hunger in the world by 2015 is still within reach, but a strong, sustained acceleration of efforts is needed,” U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva writes in a Reuters opinion piece. He notes a new report from the Rome food agencies shows the “global number of chronically hungry people has declined by 130 million since 1990, falling from a little over one billion people to 868 million — 852 million of them in developing countries.”
“Stunting is a key factor holding back progress on children’s well-being, and Asia faces a significant challenge with millions of children under five stunted,” according to Save the Children’s 2012 Child Development Index (CDI), IRIN reports. The news service examines data from the 2012 State of the World’s Children report (.pdf), noting that nearly 60 percent of children under five in Afghanistan and Timor Leste have moderate to severe stunting, which puts children “at greater risk of illness and death, impaired cognitive development and poor school performance, say health experts.”
“Malnutrition is likely to be the most serious health threat linked to climate shifts in the coming decades, as farmers struggle to cope with more unpredictable weather, … epidemiologist Kris Ebi warned during a recent World Health Organization (WHO) briefing on adapting health systems to climate shifts,” AlertNet reports. “Linkages between climate change, extreme weather and health have so far focused mainly on an expected increase in deaths from disasters and heat waves, as well as rising cases of malaria, dengue fever and diarrhea,” the news service writes.
Hereditary Blood Disorder Found In South-East Asia, South-West Pacific Could Offer Clues For Malaria Vaccine
“A team of international scientists has found that a type of hereditary disorder in some communities in South-East Asia and the South-West Pacific protects its sufferers from malaria, a finding that could drive future vaccine design,” SciDev.Net reports. “Southeast Asian Ovalocytosis (SAO), an inherited disorder in which red blood cells are oval, instead of round, could be a unique human adaptation to resist malaria, according to a paper published in PLoS Medicine this month,” the news service writes.