Health experts had barely finished one project to contain anti-malarial drug resistance along the Thai-Cambodia border when their attention was drawn to Myanmar, where early warning signs suggest a waning influence of the anti-malarial drug Artemisinin.
Malaria is a leading cause of morbidity and mortality in Myanmar and a leading cause of deaths in children under five, says the UN World Health Organization (WHO).
Resistance to the previous standard treatment for malaria, chloroquine, was first reported in the 1950s along the Thai-Cambodia border. By the 1980s it had spread to sub-Saharan Africa, which has the world’s highest rate of malaria mortality.
Evidence of resistance emerged from Southeast Asia once again in 2007, this time to Artemisinin, one component of the combination therapies used worldwide to control malaria. Donors, starting with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, pumped US$22 million into the border from 2009.
Charles Delacollette, coordinator of the Bangkok-based Mekong Malaria Programme with WHO, said while those huge multi-country efforts have worked to bring down reports of malaria infections, “what we are seeing along the Thai-Myanmar border seems equally serious … to what we had at the Thai-Cambodian one”.