Vietnam inks deal with Mekong neighbors to put an end to malaria

By Vi Vu   December 8, 2017 | 05:24 pm GMT+7
Vietnam inks deal with Mekong neighbors to put an end to malaria
Testing is critical to keeping malaria from coming back. Photo by Reuters/Sukree Sukplang

Drug-resistant strains of the disease still pose a threat to the country, despite the number of related deaths falling to just three last year.

Vietnam and its neighboring countries in the Mekong region have formed an agreement to eliminate malaria by 2030, amid concerns that the mosquito-borne disease has developed a resistance to drugs.

Representatives from Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam met on Friday to discuss the disease, that has developed a strong resistance to antimalarial drugs such as Artemisinin, the core compound used in antimalarial medicine.

The officials pledged to improve cross-border collaboration and secure adequate funding to eliminate the disease.

Malaria prevention and treatment will be provided free of charge for ethnic minority groups, migrants and remote communities, they said.

The countries will receive support from the World Health Organization through surveillance programs and national planning.

WHO officials said in a statement that the 2030 goal is within reach and must be met to guarantee the health of vulnerable communities.

“The Anopheles mosquito does not need a passport or a visa to cross borders,” said Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific, as he urged the countries to unite under one strategy.

Malaria elimination in the region will set an example for the rest of the world, he said.

Malaria is a deadly disease caused by parasites that are transmitted through the bites of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes. The disease sickened 214 million people and killed 438,000 in 2015, with 90 percent of the deaths in Africa and 70 percent of them children under five years old, according to the WHO.

Between 2012 and 2016, effective control tools including nets, insecticides and preventive treatment for infants helped reduce malaria cases in the Greater Mekong Subregion by around 74 percent.

Vietnam, which already set a national target for malaria elimination by 2030, has reduced its number of cases by 82 percent and deaths by 93 percent in the past decade. It reported 4,161 infections last year, a 55 percent drop from the previous year, with just three deaths.

The country has been struggling to treat malaria since 2015. Drug-resistant parasites have been detected in Binh Phuoc Province, three hours north of Saigon, and Dak Nong, Gia Lai, Khanh Hoa and Quang Nam in the central region.