Anti-malarial tolerance rising in Burma

Resistance to what is hailed the most effective drug for malaria prevention is rising in Burma, the World Health Organisation has warned.

The problem is also occurring in other Southeast Asian countries, particularly along the Thai-Cambodia border and Cambodia-Vietnam border.

Leonard Ortega, the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s acting country representative in Burma, told DVB today that while there was no concrete data on how serious the problem is, the issue “is present”.

In the meantime, the WHO is “planning to do containment and we have some consultants coming in before the end of this month,” he added.

“Definitely there will be more recurrence of malaria, particularly the plasmodium falciparum strain, and if this is not controlled maybe there will be more deaths due to malaria and maybe it will spread to the rest of the world,” he said.

The death rate from malaria in Burma is amongst the highest in Southeast Asia, but Ortega said however that the Burmese government has a malaria prevention strategy “in line with the global recommendation”.

The disease is particularly rife along Burma’s remote borders with Thailand and China, much of which are rebel controlled.

A significant proportion of the medical aid supplied to Burma’s eastern Karen state comes through Thailand-based organizations, such as the Backpack Health Workers and Free Burma Rangers, who cross into Burma on foot to deliver medicine and emergency aid to internally displaced peoples (IDPs).

Mahn Mahn, director of Backpack Health Workers, said that malaria rates among IDPs had dropped from “60 to 80 percent of the [IDP] population in 2002 to only 20 percent now”.

He also claimed that there were no signs that tolerance to the anti-malarial drugs they use had risen in operative areas, and suggested that the WHO findings stemmed from the use of inappropriate drugs.

“We have malaria control programmes in some Karen regions,” he added. “We don’t have enough mosquito nets to provide the whole population here. We are conducting workshops and assistant programmes to educate the IDPs in malaria prevention.”

Additional reporting by Nay Htoo

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