Asia-Pacific leaders have endorsed the setting up of an alliance to combat malaria, a mosquito-borne disease which causes around 49,000 deaths in the region annually out of 36 million cases.
The Asia Pacific Leaders Malaria Alliance, or APLMA, was formed at the recent annual East Asia Summit held in Brunei, and initially includes Australia, Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Australia and Vietnam will act as APLMA co-chairs while the Asian Development Bank will act as the Secretariat to support with advocacy, reviewing regional progress, convening regional meetings, and assessing results.
APLMA aims to reduce malaria cases and deaths by 75 percent by 2015 and contain the spread of drug-resistant forms of the parasite, the ADB said, adding the alliance would expand the fight against the illness beyond the health sector into areas like regional trade, transportation, migration, and rural industries.
"Beyond its human toll, malaria's social and economic costs are devastating in countries where the disease is endemic. Malaria particularly the emergence of artemisinin-resistant malaria is a major development challenge, requiring strengthened regional collaboration, sustainable solutions and predictable financing," Takehiko Nakao, ADB President, said.
Increased population movements, low quality and counterfeit anti-malarial medicines, and climate change exacerbate the region's vulnerability to malaria, the bank said.
APLMA will set up two task forces, one to examine options for sustainable funding mechanisms to ensure that financing for the fight against malaria remains strong until transmission of the parasite is eliminated and the other to increase production and access to quality medicines, and reduce the use of the low-quality and incorrectly formulated anti-malarial medicines that increase the risk of drug resistance.
Artemisinin is the key ingredient in drugs used to treat malaria and has played a major part in reducing the global burden of the disease in the last 10 years. However, the efficacy of these drugs is now threatened by emerging parasite resistance to artemisinin.
Artemisinin resistance is currently restricted to countries of the Greater Mekong subregion but given the ever-increasing levels of population movement in the region, the geographic scope of the problem could widen quickly, posing a health security risk for many countries in the region and globally.
According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 219 million cases of malaria occur each year around the world, causing approximately 660,000 deaths, primarily in sub-Saharan Africa.
There is no vaccine against the disease.