News release - MANILA, 24 APRIL 2013 - On World Malaria Day, 25 April, the World Health Organization (WHO) in the Western Pacific urges Member States to remain steadfast in the fight against malaria to preserve the gains made and eliminate malaria as a public health threat.

The theme for World Malaria Day this year is “Invest in the future. Defeat malaria.” because progress towards malaria control or elimination must be maintained and intensified.

“We have accomplished a tremendous amount in the fight against malaria, but still have much to do," said WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific, Dr Shin Young-soo. "Not only does the fight against malaria save lives, it promotes progress towards other key development goals, including increasing maternal and child survival, improving the health of people living with HIV and reducing poverty.”

Malaria is endemic in 10 out of 37 countries and areas in the Western Pacific Region, including Cambodia, China's Yunnan province, the Lao People's Democratic Republic and Viet Nam in the Greater Mekong Subregion. In the Mekong Subregion, it is concentrated in remote forested areas, and disproportionately affects ethnic minorities and mobile and migrant populations. It is also intense in most of Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.

The Western Pacific Region is making excellent progress against malaria. Overall, the malaria morbidity rate fell by 46% and malaria mortality rate by 73% between 2000 and 2011.

According to The World Malaria Report 2012, the number of microscopically confirmed malaria cases decreased by more than 75% between 2000 and 2011 in six countries: Cambodia, China, the Lao People's Democratic Republic, the Philippines, the Republic of Korea, and Viet Nam. The number of reported malaria-related deaths fell by more than 75% in Cambodia, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, the Philippines and Viet Nam over the same period.

Malaria is a life-threatening disease caused by parasites that are transmitted to people through the bites of infected mosquitoes. In the Western Pacific Region, one of the biggest challenges to malaria control is artemisinin-resistant falciparum malaria.

Artemisinins are the key compounds in artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs). ACTs are the first-line treatment for uncomplicated falciparum malaria in most endemic countries, and have been central to the remarkable recent successes in global malaria prevention and control.

While artemisinin resistance containment efforts on the Cambodia–Thailand border have been successful, new foci of resistance are being discovered in other areas of the Greater Mekong Subregion, necessitating a regional containment strategy.

This strategy is enshrined in the "Emergency Response to Artemisinin Resistance in the Greater Mekong Subregion" framework, which will be launched on World Malaria Day 2013 in Cambodia. This framework reiterates the overarching goal of protecting the artemisinin-based combination therapies as effective treatments for falciparum malaria.

Stakeholders are urged to scale up and increase the effectiveness of interventions to address artemisinin resistance. The document draws increased attention to implementing strategies and lessons learnt from the ongoing containment efforts and from conclusions drawn in joint assessments. It outlines existing guidance for artemisinin resistance containment and describes the areas where action is urgently needed in order to improve efforts in containing artemisinin resistance.

At the 7th East Asia Summit held on 20 November 2012 in Cambodia, heads of state from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation and the United States of America pledged in the "Declaration of the 7th East Asia Summit on Regional Responses to Malaria Control and Addressing Resistance to Antimalarial Medicines" to strengthen national and regional responses to antimalarial drug resistance. The leaders warned that resistance to artemisinin “threatens the considerable gains made in malaria control in the Region, and its possible spread represents a major threat to national, regional and global malaria control”.

Malaria can be controlled through: early diagnosis and prompt and effective treatment with artemisinin-based combination therapies, and vector control measures, such as insecticide-treated mosquito nets.

“Defeating malaria will require a high level of political commitment, strengthened regional cooperation and the engagement of a number of sectors outside of health, including finance, education, defence, environment, mining, industry and tourism,” said WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan. “The fight against this disease needs to be integrated into the overall development agenda in endemic countries.”