BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN, BRUNEI DARUSSALAM – Convening in Brunei for the annual East Asia Summit, 18 leaders have endorsed the creation of an Asia Pacific Leaders Malaria Alliance (APLMA) to unite countries and promote regional political leadership and collaboration against the disease.

APLMA aims to reduce malaria cases and deaths by 75% by 2015 and to contain the spread of drug resistant forms of the parasite by expanding the fight against the illness beyond the health sector into the arenas of regional trade, transportation, migration, and rural industries such as agriculture, mining and forestry.

“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,” said Takehiko Nakao, President of the Asian Development Bank (ADB), which will act as APLMA Secretariat.

Increased population movements, rampant availability of low quality and counterfeit antimalarial medicines, and climate change exacerbate the region’s vulnerability to malaria, which remains a major cause of death and illness in Asia and the Pacific, with an estimated 36 million cases and around 49,000 deaths annually.

Two APLMA taskforces will also be established. The Regional Financing Taskforce will examine options for sustainable funding mechanisms to ensure that financing for the fight against malaria remains strong until transmission of the parasite is eliminated. Typically funding fades once numbers are reduced, leaving the region vulnerable to re-emergence.

An Improving Access to Quality Medicines and Other Technologies Taskforce will work to increase regional production and access to quality medicines, and reduce the availability and use of the low-quality and incorrectly formulated anti-malarial medicines that increase risks of drug resistance. Already, the emergence of new strains of drug resistant malaria is of major concern, not only in the region but globally.

The expanded use of artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT) has played a major part in reducing the global burden of malaria during the past 10 years. However, the efficacy of these frontline drugs is now threatened by emerging parasite resistance to artemisinin, the core ingredient of the therapy.

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, with ongoing malaria transmission. 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.

The APLMA’s initial members include the Heads of Government from Australia, Cambodia, People’s Republic of China, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Myanmar, Thailand, and Viet Nam. Australia and Viet Nam will act as APLMA co-chairs. As Secretariat, ADB will support the co-chairs in advocacy, reviewing regional progress, convening regional meetings, and achieving results through APLMA’s two taskforces.

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