A toddler with malaria is being treated at Dian Harapan Hospital in the Papuan capital of Jayapura. (Antara Photo)

Malaria Threat Resurfaces Due to Climate Change and Covid-19 

BY :MAGGIE LEUNG

AUGUST 25, 2021

Singapore. The Asia-Pacific region is under threat of Vector Borne Disease (VBDs) especially in face of climate change and the evolving Covid-19 challenge. In a recent landmark study by the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the extreme weather conditions caused by climate change have provided rising hurdles for disease control.

According to experts, the relationship of climate change and Vector Borne Disease is currently the most pressing challenge for the global health community.

Malaria was already a problem across region at lower altitudes so warmer temperatures will alter the growth cycle of the parasite in mosquito and enabling them to develop faster, said Dr. Sarthak Das,  Chief Executive Officer of the Asia Pacific Leaders Malaria Alliance (APLMA). 

This is likely to have severe implications on the burden of malaria.

“Climate change will have direct and indirect impacts on VBDs epidemiology, the population’s health, and the ability of countries with fragile health systems to cope with any increasing burden of disease, be it malaria or any other VBD,” he said in a recent interview with the Jakarta Globe.

To ease the fuels of climate change in Asian countries with higher VBDs burdens, Dr. Das suggested integrating climate related information into preparedness plans and conducting investigative research.

“Models used to assess the impact of climate change on VBDs transmission must integrate variables that interact with both the environment and VBDs, then to incorporate human interventions and social contexts,” he added.

According to the World Health Organization, Indonesia is accountable for 21 percent of South-East Asia region’s malaria cases and 16 percent of malaria deaths. Although as one of nine malaria-endemic countries in the region, a total of 285 districts have achieved malaria-free in the country by 2018. Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic has hit hard on disease control as the experts discussed further.

Dr. Das said the pandemic had disrupted basic programs to control malaria such as the distribution of bed nets which has increased the risk of malaria and hindered efforts to reach national elimination targets in the case of Indonesia.

“However, cross border progress along with malaria control efforts has been hindered due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which continues to have an enormous impact on Indonesia.” he said.

Although in the World Malaria Report 2020, Indonesia is the second following India in the number of malaria cases, Dr. Das and his fellow Indonesian scientist Dr. Didik Budijanto have confidence in Indonesia’s goal of eliminating malaria by 2030.

Dr. Didik said Indonesia had made positive strides in tailoring efforts for its high burden areas from tailoring technical assistance to increase community engagement with trained cadres such as Community Healthcare Workers.

“The country has almost halved its malaria burden from 2010 to 2019. Yet it is proving to be highly resilient in the eastern remote provinces including Papua, West Papua, Maluku and Nusa Tenggara Timur (NTT) with Papua accounting for 86 percent of all cases nationally,” said Didik,  director of vector borne and zoonotic disease prevention and control with the Indonesian Health Ministry.

For Indonesia’s future disease control development, both scientists raised the importance of environmental management and cooperation within the region. The case of Singapore and China are used as references.

“The Singapore dengue control programme has been applauded as one of the best in the world. Although in many countries dengue control sits under the Ministry of Health, unusually in Singapore it sits within the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources (MEWR). This is in line with the view that dengue is an environmental disease,” Dr. Das said.

“The recent China malaria-free certification provides many successes and learnings for other countries in the fight against dengue and infectious diseases. The country’s successes reflect the crucial role of cross-sector collaboration, continued domestic financing and political support, targeted interventions for rural, high-risk and border areas, as well as having the right infrastructure in place.” Dr. Das said.

“Beyond this, more research on the impact of climate change in Indonesia is certainly needed. We hope the malaria program will receive recommendations following the results of the UNICEF collaboration with National Institute of Health Research and Development in due course.” Dr. Didik added.
 

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