Resistance to anti-malarial drugs spreads in SE Asia

Resistance to anti-malarial drugs spreads in SE Asia

WASHINGTON — Experts in the United States are raising the alarm over the spread of drug-resistant malaria in several South-east Asian countries, endangering major global gains in fighting the mosquito-borne disease that kills more than 600,000 people annually.


WASHINGTON — Experts in the United States are raising the alarm over the spread of drug-resistant malaria in several South-east Asian countries, endangering major global gains in fighting the mosquito-borne disease that kills more than 600,000 people annually.While the communicable disease wreaks its heaviest toll in Africa, it is in nations along the Mekong River where the most serious threat to treating it has emerged.

The availability of therapies using the drug artemisinin has helped cut global malaria deaths by a quarter in the past decade. But resistance to it emerged on the Thai-Cambodia border in 2003, and has since been confirmed in Vietnam and Myanmar too. It has also been detected in south-west China and suspected as far away as Guyana and Suriname, according to a new report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) think-tank.

The report warns that could be a health catastrophe in the making, as no alternative anti-malarial drug is on the horizon.

The UN World Health Organization, or WHO, is warning that what seems to be a localised threat could easily get out of control and have serious implications for global health.

“Without eliminating the malaria parasite in the Mekong, it is only a matter of time before artemisinin resistance becomes the global norm, reversing the recent gains,” wrote Dr Christopher Daniel, ex-commander of the US Naval Medical Research Center, in the report for a conference at the Washington think-tank yesterday.

Mosquitoes have developed resistance to anti-malarial drugs before.

The same happened with the drug chloroquine, which helped eliminate malaria from Europe, North America, the Caribbean and parts of Asia and south-central America during the 1950s. Resistance first began appearing on the Thai-Cambodia border, and by the early 1990s it was virtually useless as an anti-malarial in much of the world.

Nowhere are the challenges in countering the threat to drug-resistance greater than in Myanmar. About 70 per cent of its 55 million people live in malaria-endemic areas and, as a nation, it accounts for about three-quarters of malaria infections and deaths in the Mekong region, the report said.

Myanmar’s public health system is ill-equipped to cope, as government spending on health dwindled to the equivalent of only US$0.60 (S$0.75) per person under military rule, although it has been increased significantly under the quasi-civilian administration that took power in 2011.

In a third of townships, there has been virtually no public health presence for years.

It is an issue of regional concern as Myanmar has large transient populations in its border regions, including ethnic minorities displaced by fighting and migrant workers who cross borders. “It is clear that this country with its chronically under-resourced health system needs urgent additional attention,” Dr Daniel said.

The CSIS is advocating greater US involvement and aid for health and fighting malaria in the Mekong region, particularly in Myanmar, where Washington has been in the vanguard of ramping up international aid, as sanctions have been eased to reward it for democratic reforms.

The centrist think-tank argues that can increase America’s profile in South-east Asia in a way that will benefit needy people and not be viewed as threatening to strategic rival, China.

But securing more funds will not be easy at a time when Washington is cutting back on programmes for its own poor. The US is already a major contributor to international anti-malaria efforts and, in Myanmar, is promising US$20 million per year in health assistance. AP

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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