“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).
IRIN examines the controversy surrounding the Affordable Medicines Facility-malaria (AMFm), writing, “The argument over the way it operates has reignited ahead of a board meeting of the [Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria] on 14-15 November, which is due to assess the success of the project and its reliance on private sector providers.” The news service reports on an evaluation of AMFm published recently in the Lancet and another paper by Oxfam criticizing the facility. The Global Fund Board, which administers AMFm, “is meeting in nine days to decide whether AMF has worked as was intended, and whether it should be continued, scaled up, or abandoned altogether,” IRIN writes (11/5).
“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).
“An antibiotic used to treat severe bacterial infections showed promise at treating a highly drug-resistant and deadly form of tuberculosis [TB],” according to a study conducted by U.S. government and South Korean researchers and published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Wednesday, Reuters reports (Steenhuysen, 10/17). The “small study offers a bit of cautious optimism about the prospects for treatment of tuberculosis, … showing that adding a 12-year-old antibiotic called linezolid, brand name Zyvox, to existing treatments cured nearly 90 percent of patients with a form of tuberculosis resistant to both first- and second-line antibiotics,” NPR’s “Shots” blog writes (Knox, 10/18). “However, most of the patients [in the study] — 82 percent — experienced side effects while on the treatment, which tempered the findings, the team reported,” Reuters notes. “Researchers are desperately looking for new treatments for drug-resistant forms of TB, which threatens to derail progress in the global fight to eradicate the disease,” according to the news agency (10/17).
The Wall Street Journal examines how bureaucracy in India is slowing the treatment of tuberculosis (TB) in the country. The newspaper recounts the story of Rahima Sheikh, “one of 16 patients identified by Mumbai doctors to be resistant to virtually all traditional TB treatments.” The Wall Street Journal writes, “Mumbai officials have publicly pledged free treatment for Mrs. Sheikh and other, similar patients with extreme forms of drug resistance within the city’s jurisdiction,” but “Mrs. Sheikh has now become caught in the bureaucracy of India’s incomplete national network for treating the most virulent TB.”
In a BMJ Group Blogs post, Caroline Robinson, global health advocacy manager for Results U.K., discusses the prevalence and treatment of tuberculosis (TB) and drug-resistant TB in Europe and provides the example of Romania. She writes, “[E]vidence brought to light in a new report [.pdf] released recently outlining the effect funding shortages will have on HIV and TB, including drug-resistant TB, in the European region suggests that Romania does not have the institutional capacity to ensure its citizens have the basic right to health. The country relies on grants from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, which look set to end in 2013.” She continues, “[Global Fund] Board members should ensure that middle-income countries with epidemics among key populations can access critical Global Fund contributions and the E.U. and its member states must continue to provide the resources the fund requires to meet demand. Unless such support is given, countries like Romania will continue to fall further down the league tables in terms of treatment for this curable disease” (10/10).
“One of the most urgent global public health problems is the increasing capability of bacteria to resist antibiotic drugs,” a Washington Post editorial states. “The specter of a world without effective antibiotics has been looming for years, but recent evidence suggests that the superbugs are evolving ever faster,” the editorial continues. “Meanwhile, the pipeline of new antibiotics is running dry, leaving some patients with no effective treatment for life-threatening disease,” it adds.
“The World Health Organization said Thursday that governments in the Mekong region must act ‘urgently’ to stop the spread of drug-resistant malaria which has emerged in parts of Vietnam and Myanmar,” Agence France-Presse reports. “There is growing evidence that the malaria parasite is becoming resistant to a frontline treatment, the anti-malarial drug artemisinin, in southern and central Vietnam and in southeastern Myanmar, the WHO said in a statement,” AFP writes, noting, “WHO regional director, Shin Young-soo, said countries must ‘urgently address this issue before we put at risk not only the fragile gains we have made in malaria control but also our goal of a malaria-free Western Pacific Region.'” The news service adds, “Countries in the Mekong region must “intensify and expand” operations to contain and eliminate artemisinin-resistant malaria, Shin said at a WHO regional meeting in Hanoi” (9/28).
Global Health Funding Cuts Threatening Fight Against HIV, TB In Eastern Europe, Central Asia, NGO Report Says
The fight against HIV and tuberculosis (TB) in Eastern Europe and Central Asia is being threatened by cuts in global health funding, according to “a report [.pdf] by leading European non-governmental health organizations,” Reuters reports. In the report, “experts called on the European Union to step in to fill the gaps left by global donors to countries within and neighboring its borders,” the news service notes. According to Reuters, “[c]ountries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia have some of the world’s fastest growing HIV epidemics,” and “Europe is also home to the world’s highest documented rates of drug-resistant TB” (Kelland, 9/18).