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Support needed for battling Malaria in Myanmar

May 20, 2010

Malaria, a major cause of mortality in Myanmar raises concerns as huge funds are required to scale up its prevention. Combating with the disease requires immediate attention in terms of increase in number of facilities and affordability of treatment for which greater humanitarian and development aid from first world is necessary.

Yangon: Myanmar needs an estimated US$20 million to scale up malaria prevention measures, especially the distribution of long-lasting insecticide-treated bed nets, early diagnosis and proper treatment, Osamu Kunii, chief of health and nutrition at the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) in Myanmar, told IRIN.

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"Some key challenges are insufficient funding available for malaria prevention and control activities, and [the] emergence of drug-resistant malaria," Kunii said.

Evidence of tolerance to Artemisinin - the most effective drug used to treat malaria - has been found in the southeast, along the border with Thailand, and in southern Mon State.

"It is very important to react aggressively to this threat," said Frank Smithuis, the former director of Médecins sans Frontières in Myanmar and now head of Medical Action Myanmar.

"In Cambodia, where resistance to Artemisinin was first detected, an enormous effort is being made to contain the spread of resistance. This is all financed by the first-world countries," he said.

"Surely there is no reason whatsoever not to give similar support to control malaria in Myanmar. It is urgent for the first world to increase humanitarian and development aid to control malaria in Myanmar."

There are also significant access restrictions and logistical challenges, especially during and after the rainy season, when local malaria transmission is most intense, one aid worker from an international NGO said, on condition of anonymity.

"It would be good to increase the number of facilities to diagnose and treat malaria. In addition, it is essential to make effective malaria treatment affordable for everybody," Smithuis said.

He said estimates of annual malaria cases range from 4.2 million to 8.5 million. The official reported number of deaths is about 9,000 a year, but he said the actual figure is likely much higher.

According to Myanmar's National Malaria Control Programme, 76 percent of the country's estimated 50 million inhabitants live in malaria-prone areas.

Populations most vulnerable to malaria are migrant workers and marginalized ethnic groups, experts say.

Malaria, a vector-borne disease, affects 300 million people in 90 countries around the world, and kills one million people annually - 90 percent of them in Africa, and 9 percent in Southeast Asia, say health experts.

Symptoms include fever, headache and vomiting, and usually appear 10-15 days after the mosquito bite. Left untreated, malaria can become life-threatening.

Source : IRIN
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