News story

UK tackles malaria resistance in Burma

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Britain is leading the fight against malaria drug resistance through a project in Burma which is tackling issues around diagnosis, prescription of drugs and prevention.

The rise of drug-resistant malaria is threatening to render treatments that have saved millions of lives in Africa and Asia over the past decade virtually useless.

Britain will help fund the training of health workers and community volunteers to correctly diagnose and treat malaria. We will also help to supply insecticide-treated bednets to thousands of families and activities to improve malaria awareness in high risk communities, especially migrant workers, which are most vulnerable to resistance.

Early diagnosis: A malaria health worker takes blood sample of a little girl in Shan State. Picture:  (C) CESVI

Early diagnosis: A malaria health worker takes blood sample of a little girl in Shan State, Burma. Picture: CESVI

The most effective cure for the most dangerous form of malaria called ACTs (Artemisinin Combination Therapies) has saved over 730,000 lives in Africa alone. However, there are signs that a new malaria parasite, resistant to ACTs, first identified on the border of Thailand and Cambodia, is now emerging in Burma. Time is limited to contain the spread of this drug resistant strain.

Burma has a pivotal role to play in preventing the spread of drug-resistance. Experts have warned that if resistance is not contained it could travel to Africa with potentially devastating results.

The UK is providing an initial extra £4 million to kick start resistance containment in Burma. In 2011 this will reach 166,000 people with diagnosis and treatment, provide 350,000 bed nets and re-treat a further 450,000 bednets to reduce and ultimately help contain drug-resistant malaria.

Speaking ahead of World Malaria Day on 25 April, International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell said:

“It is simply not acceptable that across the world almost 780,000 people - mainly pregnant women and children - die every year through a disease that is not only curable but preventable.

“Britain is at the forefront of the fight against drug-resistant malaria. It is vital that we work to prevent the spread of resistant parasites if the progress of recent years is not to be undone.

“The worrying situation in Burma requires an innovative approach to contain resistant parasites by massively increasing access to accurate diagnosis and effective treatment - and to prevent malaria in the first place, particularly amongst migrant workers.”

This extra aid will bring the UK’s total contribution to efforts to tackle the epidemics of malaria, HIV and tuberculosis in Burma to £34.1 million over 5 years (2007-12). This aid is delivered through the Three Diseases Fund, a fund set up by the UK, Australia, the European Commission, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Denmark. 

It is also part of a wider UK Framework for Results for malaria in the developing world which includes support for research and surveillance in the region, with the aim of identifying emerging drug-resistant strains, targeting the global response, and protecting the gains in global malaria control.

The Three Diseases Fund has an excellent track record in effectively providing health aid in Burma: since 2006 it has treated 880,000 people for malaria. This treatment is often life-saving in a country like Burma, where government spending on basic health care is less than US $1 per person each year, one of the lowest levels of public investment in the world.