Asia is hit with 30 million cases of malaria a year resulting in 42,000 deaths, a report said yesterday as experts called for an urgent response to the disease that stalks billions in the region. Most international efforts to defeat malaria have so far been concentrated on Africa, where the majority of the 650,000 worldwide deaths occur. However, out of the 3.3 billion people at risk from the mosquito-borne disease, 2.5 billion live outside the African region — mostly in Asia, where growing resistance to the frontline drug treatment is also causing concern. Leading scientists and health experts meeting in Sydney this week at the “Malaria 2012: Saving Lives in the Asia-Pacific” conference flagged the need for tougher political leadership and regional coordination.
Fatoumata Nafo-Traore, director of the Roll Back Malaria Partnership, the global framework for coordinated action against the disease, called for a renewed focus in Asia, which has the second-highest malaria burden after Africa. “In the face of persistent economic uncertainty and profound changes in the landscape of global development aid, the region needs strong political leadership,” she said. “It also needs to develop financing strategies that include substantive and sustained domestic investment, traditional multilateral and bilateral aid, and truly innovative sources of funding,” Nafo-Traore added.
She was speaking at the launch of a new report, Defeating Malaria in Asia, the Pacific, Americas, Middle East and Europe, a joint initiative with the WHO. It showed that the parasite threatens more than 2 billion people each year in the Asia-Pacific region, while smaller numbers are at risk in the Americas (160 million) and Middle East (250 million). There were about 34 million cases of malaria outside Africa in 2010, claiming the lives of an estimated 46,000 people.
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. India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Myanmar and Papua New Guinea were hardest hit. Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr, who attended the three-day Sydney conference, yesterday pledged US$100 million over the next four years to fight the scourge in the Asia-Pacific. “Malaria does not respect borders,” he said. “Our focus must be on cross-regional action alongside traditional single-country strategies.”