People in the remote village of War Taw in southern Myanmar often do battle with malaria. Here, villagers earn their living working in and around forests that harbor malaria-carrying mosquitoes, but health services are scarce and far away.
Villagers who contracted serious illnesses like malaria and needed professional health care often had to travel across the rugged border region to a clinic in Thailand. But mobile help is now on the way with a new group of village volunteers.
Saw Lu Lu, 25, is one of them. “This is a chance for me and for the village”, he recalls thinking after hearing that USAID, the primary agency responsible for implementing the U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI), was setting up community-based malaria services. “If I could learn malaria prevention, know how to perform the test and be able to treat malaria, it would be a great benefit to our village and all my neighbors.”
In April 2013, the PMI-supported mobile malaria team visited War Taw to distribute long-lasting insecticide-treated bednets, provide malaria services, and recruit a volunteer village malaria worker to work for the village. After his selection as the volunteer, Lu Lu attended three days of training in Dawei for volunteer malaria workers from many other villages and communities.
After returning home, Lu Lu started working as a malaria worker, gathering villagers for education sessions and sharing information about malaria prevention, treatment and healthy behavior. Equipped with skills from the training, he offered malaria testing with rapid diagnostic tests to those who came with fever, and provided artemisinin combination therapy to those testing positive. After only six months as a malaria worker, Lu Lu has noticed a notable drop in malaria cases in his village.
“I asked the villagers to sleep under the bed nets, I did many tests and gave treatment with good medicines for malaria, and all patients have been cured,” he reported. “Being assigned as the volunteer malaria worker for my village and being able to help my fellow villagers makes me proud. The villagers also have higher respect for me. I am glad that I can do something to help improve health conditions of my neighbors.”
Field activities in War Taw are being expanded all across Myanmar, where the availability of rapid diagnostic tests and medicine at the community level has enabled more cases to be diagnosed and treated.
The country has seen a 46 percent drop in malaria cases—from 722,000 in 2002 to nearly 392,000 in 2012. The number of malaria-related deaths also decreased by 85 percent—from over 2,600 in 2002 to 400 in 2012.
A trilateral initiative was created in early 2013 to send Thai experts and resources to support Burmese on both sides of the Thai-Myanmar border, with support from the U.S. Government, the Thai and Burmese National Malaria Control Programs, and the Thailand International Development Cooperation Agency.