NEW STRAINS of diarrhoea, malaria and cholera are spreading rapidly in South Asia, adding to the burden of health care systems that are already stretched to breaking point.

Scientists in Bangladesh say the new cholera bacterium, named vibrio non-01, has killed as many as 4,000 of 70,000 victims, mostly residents of coastal districts. Besides, a cholera epidemic that has cut a wide swath in West Bengal is reportedly spreading to Bangladesh and Nepal and to India's southern states. Some cases of the new cholera, which does not respond to any of the traditional vaccines, have even been reported from Malaysia and Japan.

And, the spectre of the 1930 malaria epidemic, which swept through Sri Lanka taking a toll of 2 million lives, is rising again. Health authorities report the disease is widely prevalent in the northwest and north of the country, and is spreading toward the northeast.

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