As the World Health Organization and its partners are spending $175 million to block the spread of artemisinin-resistant malaria along the border of Cambodia and Thailand by providing free care, free medication, and a pervasive police force hunting down fake drugs military troops from both countries are exchanging gunfire

Monk waterfall, Preah Vihear

Preah Vihear
by travelskerricks via Flickr.

As the World Health Organization and its partners are spending $175 million to block the spread of artemisinin-resistant malaria along the border of Cambodia and Thailand by providing free care, free medication, and a pervasive police force hunting down fake drugs, military troops from both countries are exchanging gunfire that may prevent WHO’s campaign for succeeding.

Troops are fighting around the Preah Vihear temple, disputed between Thailand and Cambodia, which makes it very dangerous for health workers to monitor the disease, treat new and existing victims within the war zone, and for local police to pursue counterfeit anti-malarial distributors. Furthermore, reports The New Scientist, healthcare providers are not allowed to check soldiers for infection and resistance.

WHO is very concerned about the conflict’s impact on their attempt to eradicate the drug resistant malaria before it spreads.

“I hope the critical importance of a global health emergency takes precedence over a political conflict,” says Robert Newman, director of the WHO’s Global Malaria Programme, “I hope the dispute can be settled, not just for our project but for the people on this border and for the wider world.”

Up to one-third of the people with malaria are resistant to the drug in regions along the border, with treatment taking double the normal clinical protocol length.

Counterfeit drugs and combat fire may effectively spread the drug-resistant malaria beyond a containable area. Already, new “foci” of resistance have been discovered in Vietnam and on the border between Thailand and Burma, says Newman.