Fighting Malaria is Worth Getting Stuck in the Mud

by Alena Sims, Communications and Knowledge Management Associate, Malaria and Child Survival, PSI

“I used to give malaria treatment to all patients who had symptoms without properly testing them,” explains Phyu Khin Khine, a community healthcare worker serving 15 rural villages in Myanmar. “And, I would give them bad medications without knowing.”

For nearly 17 years, in her role as a community health worker, Phyu has travelled by motorbike and foot through the lush forests of eastern Myanmar to reach patients in the surrounding villages.

Every day, the 46-year-old mother of two travels up to 15 miles to reach nearby villages and offer basic health services, including diagnosis and treatment for malaria. Occasionally the mud is so thick that her motorbike gets stuck and she is forced to continue on foot. Phyu laughs, “and sometimes my shoes get stuck and I have to walk barefoot.”

As with many community health workers in Myanmar, Phyu previously didn’t have proper malaria diagnostic tools and had limited knowledge of malaria and the use of proper antimalarial treatments. With drug resistance spreading in Myanmar and other countries in the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS), proper malaria diagnosis and treatment is now more important than ever.

Community health workers such as Phyu, who provide a large majority of health services in rural Myanmar, are critical. Recognizing this, through USAID/PMI’s MalariaCare project, PSI has developed an in-depth training to ensure such providers receive the skills and knowledge they need to fight malaria.

Phyu found out about the training through the local township hospital and was immediately interested. The training guided her through how to properly diagnose malaria using a rapid diagnostic test (RDTs). She learned what to do in the case of a positive or negative test, and which drugs are effective or ineffective for malaria treatment. The training also made her aware of the reasons for and impact of drug resistance.

“When I first started working as a community health worker,” Phyu says, “there were a lot more malaria cases. Now, I [rarely] see malaria cases. After I attended the PSI training, I realized that I might have been providing malaria medication to patients who didn’t have malaria. Because of drug resistance, this is a problem.”

Through the MalariaCare project, PSI has provided training to more than 400 community health workers in Myanmar similar to Phyu and continues to recruit and train new community health workers every day. What’s more, the six countries in the Greater Mekong Subregion were able to cut their malaria case incidence by 45% between 2012 and 2015. During this same time period, malaria death rates fell by 84%.

“I am happy I can help people from the nearby villages get the help they need,” Phyu exclaims. “The hardest part [now] is traveling through the mud.”

Banner photo: © Population Services International / Banner Photo by: Piers Benatar