APMEN Country Partner Bhutan aims to achieve zero local malaria transmission by 2016, and acquire the World Health Organization malaria-free certification by 2020.
Working in partnership with APMEN, the Bhutan Vector-Borne Disease Control Programme (VDCP), supported by the Ministry of Health, has been steadily expanding their malaria research and operational capacity to improve surveillance and case management, including developments in a geographic information systems and mobile phone technologies. In addition, the VDCP has recently commenced a clinical trial aimed at identifying safe and effective treatment for P. vivax malaria in Bhutan.
With support from the Bhutan Ministry of Health and the APMEN Vivax Working Group (VxWG), the trial is being conducted across six health centres across the low-lying southern region of Bhutan, bordering the Indian states of Assam and West Bengal. This region has the highest malaria incidence in Bhutan related to climate and cross-border population movement.
Principal Investigator Mr Tobgyel Drukpa, together with Co-Investigators Dr Kinley Penjor and Dr Tashi Peldon, are working in collaboration with the APMEN Vivax Coordinating Team at Menzies School of Health Research, Australia, to implement the trial.
Earlier this year, APMEN VxWG Clinical Coordinator Dr Lorenz von Seidlein and Ms Amanda Murphy from Menzies travelled to Gelephu in Bhutan’s south to participate in a 5-day training workshop for health centre staff in preparation for commencement of the trial. The team has now recruited the first study participants.
“The training workshop was a great opportunity to talk with health centre staff from across the country and to listen to their views and problems. We ensured that all the necessary resources were in place to support the researchers in successfully conducting the study.” Dr von Seidlein said.
Confirmed malaria cases in Bhutan declined by 99% between 1994 and 2010 due to focused vector control activities such as the widespread distribution of insecticide treated bednets. The majority of indigenous cases (60%) were due to P. vivax in 2012, and 32% and 8% were due to Plasmodium falciparum and mixed infections, respectively.
The Bhutanese trial is one of four studies instigated to date by APMEN Country Partners who identified the need for clinical evidence of safe and effective treatment for P. vivax in their countries. The Vivax Working Group Coordinating Team is also working with Country Partners in Malaysia, Vanuatu, China and the Solomon Islands to implement clinical studies, and looks forward to sharing the outcomes of these studies with all of our partners in APMEN.