SYDNEY, Nov. 2 (Xinhua) -- A critical regional health conference in Sydney has heard that growing resistance to an anti- malarial drug based on traditional Chinese herbal medicine could expose up to 2 billion people to malaria in the Asia Pacific region alone.
The Artemisinin, also known as Qing hao su in Chinese, has been vital in global efforts to stop the spread of malaria, which still affects 216 million people globally, causing around 650,000 death each year.
Delivering a keynote address at the Malaria 2012: Saving Lives in the Asia Pacific conference in Sydney, Australia's Foreign Minister Bob Carr announced Friday that Australia will spend more than 100 million U.S. dollars over the next four years to combat malaria in the region.
"One person is dying every minute from malaria. Many more will die if we do not urgently address drug-resistant malaria. If we accelerate our efforts we could save 70,000 lives and prevent around 50 million malaria cases by 2015.
"We will establish a working group with regional leaders to drive joint action and advance malaria discussions following the upcoming East Asia Summit." Carr said.
But as the conference draws to a close, experts and political leaders have warned that failure to deal with drug resistant malaria will have dire consequences.
A report by the Rollback Malaria Partnership showed there were more than 34 million cases of Malaria outside Africa in 2010, claiming the lives of 46,000 people.
The vast bulk of those cases were in the Asia Pacific, which includes 20 malaria endemic countries.
"Asia accounts for the second highest burden of malaria, second only to Africa. In the face of persistent economic uncertainty and profound changes in the landscape of global development aid, the region needs strong political leadership," said the report.
It also needs to develop financing strategies that include substantive and sustained domestic investment, traditional multilateral and bilateral aid and truly innovative sources of funding," said RBM Executive Director, Dr. Fatoumata Nafo-Traore.
The three-day conference of political leaders, medical professionals and civil society organizations focused on the growing resistance to artemisinin.
The Asia Pacific has traditionally been the epicenter for the emergence of drug resistant malaria parasites and if artemisinin resistance spreads, it would threaten the gains of the last decade.
"Antimalarial drug resistance is one of the greatest challenges to continued success in controlling and eliminating malaria in the Asia-Pacific," stated Dr. Robert Newman, Director of the WHO's Global Malaria Program.
"There is an urgent need for coordinated action against this public health threat, as called for in the Global Plan for Artemisinin Resistance Containment. It will be critical to galvanize political action and secure investments to implement an emergency response plan for the Greater Mekong Subregion."
The Rollback Malaria Partnership was launched in 1998 by the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, UNDP and the World Bank to provide a coordinated approach to fighting malaria. It is now a public-private partnership with more than 500 partners, including malaria endemic nations, philanthropic organizations, NGOs, multilateral aid groups and the private sector.