Thai-Myanmar Border: Malaria Epidemic Averted

In eastern Myanmar, nearly 15% of children will die before their fifth birthday, with malaria causing more than a quarter of those deaths.

The Thai-Myanmar border is often described as an "epicenter" of drug-resistant malaria. Malaria prevalence (the proportion of the population with the disease at any time) among internally displaced people in eastern Myanmar is up to twenty times higher than across the border in Thailand.

Several years ago, a survey conducted by our partner organization, the Karen Department of Health and Welfare (KDHW), revealed that close to one-third  of the residents in a camp with 4,000 internally displaced villagers in eastern Myanmar harbored plasmodium falciparum, the deadliest form of malaria. With such a large of a reservoir of infection, the risk of transmission in the camp’s close quarters by mosquitoes endemic to Southeast Asia is enormous, and can quickly become an epidemic.

Equipped with skills, resources and malaria control experience fostered by Community Partners Internatinoal, KDHW arranged for immediate transport of bednets, rapid tests and medicines to the camp, and local program officers conducted trainings to boost the skills of the camp’s health workers.

Screening results confirmed critical prevalence rates of 18%. By the time international support for emergency supplies arrived in the camp several months later, KDHW had long been mobilized and achieved a dramatic drop in prevalence to 5%, averting a serious malaria epidemic.

Building the capacity of internally displaced people and other marginalized populations to respond rapidly to potential outbreaks is both effective and essential as we seek to curb the threat of malaria and other infectious disease.