Are We on Track? A Snapshot of Country-level Challenges in Achieving a Malaria-free Asia Pacific by 2030

In recent months, national malaria programs in the Asia Pacific have experienced country-level setbacks in malaria elimination efforts. Less than two months after Asia Pacific stakeholders convened in Bangkok, Thailand for a series of meetings on malaria elimination, the recent news items below point to the urgency of tackling priority actions in the APLMA Malaria Elimination Roadmap.

In Vietnam, national budget funding for malaria prevention and control has been falling annually since 2011 (from US$4.6 million in 2011 to US$2.6 million in 2015). The director of Vietnam’s National Institute of Malaria, Parasitology, and Entomology (NIMPE), Associate Professor Tran Thanh Duong, has said that funds will continue to fall. While malaria prevention and control efforts in Vietnam have achieved good results during the last five years (from 45,588 cases in 2011 to 19,252 in 2015), the continued budget cuts could increase malaria cases and deaths and escalate complex challenges that could harm Vietnam’s efforts to achieve its malaria elimination goal. Drug-resistant malaria is a problem in the southeastern provinces and also in the Central Highlands, where many agricultural workers stay overnight in the forest without any protection from mosquito bites.

After a steady decrease in malaria cases in South Korea, the number of cases has been rising in recent years (450 in 2013; 638 in 2014; and 699 in 2015). The government links this increase to a discontinuation of inter-Korean joint quarantine activities in the humid Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) in 2012. The DMZ is the primary location for malaria infections on the Korean Peninsula.

Thailand is working to address drug-resistant malaria because the country has repeatedly been one of the first locations to develop new types of drug-resistant malaria. Dr. Prayuth Sudathip, director of the Vector Borne Diseases Bureau, noted that drug resistance in the Plasmodium falciparum parasite arose due to three main factors: genetics, failure to complete prescribed dosages, and consumption of substandard medicines. Efforts are being taken to stop the spread of resistant malaria once and for all by eliminating malaria. Currently, only 30% of people with malaria in Thailand were infected within its borders, and most malaria cases are detected in Thailand’s border provinces, underscoring the necessity of cross-border collaboration in truly combatting malaria. Fortunately, on World Malaria Day 2016, the government of Thailand strengthened its commitment to malaria elimination by allocating roughly US$65 million from domestic resources to achieve national elimination by 2024.