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Drug-resistant malaria plaguing Myanmar

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
April 27th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

With all the attendant political reforms, health workers in Myanmar now have a chance to address a resurgence of drug-resistant falciparum malaria along the country's eastern borders.Getting aid to villagers in remote locations has proved to be a challenge, one in which health workers risk their lives to bring much needed aid.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Carrying medical aid in backpacks, workers are dodging bullets and avoiding mines to deliver healthcare to villagers in the remote border areas.

"Due to recent political changes, our health workers have more freedom to access areas formerly restricted by the Burmese army," Mahn Mahn, secretary of the Back Pack Health Worker Team says.

Improved healthcare along eastern Myanmar could not have been timed better because of emerging concern over possible genetic mutation of the Plasmodium falciparum that makes the deadly parasite resistant to artemisinin, the most effective anti-malaria drug.

Researchers have arrived at that conclusion after studying 3,202 patients with falciparum malaria who were on oral artesunate (an artemisinin derivate). The study, conducted along the Thailand-Myanmar border, spanned a 10-year period.

According to a study, the longer time taken for oral anti-malaria drugs to act on parasites in the bloodstream suggested increasing resistance.

The World Health Organization has called for more attention to be paid to Myanmar, in addition to Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam that are under watch to manage resistance to artemisinin and its derivates.

The organization has stated its concerns ahead of World Malaria Day, on Apr. 25. "The four countries most affected by resistance to artemisinin resistance are Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam and Myanmar. Of these Myanmar has by far the greatest malaria burden.

"Given its extensive migrant population, the widespread use of oral artemisinin-based mono therapies and its close geographical proximity to India, Myanmar is critical to the success of efforts to prevent the emergence of artemisinin resistance globally," the WHO adds.

Programs to combat the spread of malaria in remote ethnic areas need to address the link between disease prevalence and human rights violations in Myanmar, Bill Davis, Burma project director for Physicians for Human Rights says.

"Research done in the Karen state a few years ago showed that people who had experienced human rights violations were more likely to be positive with malaria than those who did not experience rights abuse," he says.

"Human rights abuses have a direct impact on public health," he asserted. "Forced labor, having food stolen, forced displacement, all have negative effects on health."

According to the WHO, there were 2.4 million malaria cases reported in 2010 in South and Southeast Asia, of which three countries accounted for over 90 percent of the confirmed cases. India accounted for 66 percent, Myanmar 18 percent and Indonesia 10 percent.

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