It is endemic in 10 of 11 WHO member-states in the region

About 1.3 billion people in South-East Asia continue to be at risk of malaria, even though substantial progress has been made in controlling the disease.

The region bears 15 per cent of the global burden, second only to Africa. Malaria is endemic in 10 of the 11 WHO member-states in South-East Asia. Maldives has been malaria-free since 1984. The World Health Organisation estimates that there were 2,59,19,000-4,18,66,000 malaria cases and 31,100-60,300 deaths in the region in 2010.

In a statement to mark World Malaria Day (April 25), the WHO says more funds are needed to ensure that more people, especially those living in high-risk areas, have access to long-lasting insecticidal nets, rapid diagnostic tests and laboratory equipment to detect the disease, and artemisinin-based combination therapy. There is a critical need to invest in strengthening technical and managerial capacities. In addition, funds are needed for research to develop new drugs, new tools to control outdoor transmission and to design innovative delivery mechanisms to control malaria among migrant workers and hard-to-reach populations.

India, too, has a huge burden of malaria. While official figures put annual malaria deaths at 700, this number has been contested by scientists who say it is much more. The WHO statement did not specify India-specific figures.

“Those most vulnerable to malaria include tribal communities, migrant populations, subsistence farmers and those working in development projects such as agro-forestry, hydropower dams, roads, irrigation projects, mining and rubber plantations,” the WHO said.

Progress in controlling the disease in South-East Asia has been encouraging. The key interventions, such as long-lasting insecticidal nets, rapid diagnostic test and artemisinin-based combination therapy, have been scaled up. The number of reported cases dropped from 59,68,249 in 2003 to 34,01,898 in 2011, and malaria deaths from 4,482 to 1,819.

The achievements could, however, unravel in the face of new challenges, particularly the growing threat of resistance to the most effective drug, artemisinin. Two countries in the region, Myanmar and Thailand, as well as Cambodia and Vietnam in the WHO’s Western Pacific region, are particularly affected.