Zapping Malaria in Rural Thailand

  • Thiraphat distributes mosquito repellent to one member of the community during one of his malaria awareness sessions. Photo: IOM 2016

I was born in a bamboo hut in Chiang Dao district in Chiang Mai, a member of the Lahu, an ethnic group that usually lives in remote settlements away from roads and towns. I graduated from a non-formal education center in Chiang Dao.

When I was small it was very difficult for people to get in and out of the village. I couldn’t study in the formal school because I had to help my parents with work in the field so we could provide food for our family. Now I have a wife from the same village I am from, and together we have a two-year old son. We are expecting our second child in early October.

I’ve been an IOM migrant health worker since June 2012 and my work consists of delivering awareness sessions to migrants, conducting migrant population mapping and bednet surveys, assisting in distribution of long lasting insecticidal nets, and writing reports.

Our project focuses on educating migrants in malaria endemic areas about malaria and how they can prevent it. Behavior change is our goal. Our suggested prevention methods are sleeping under mosquito nets, applying repellent, wearing clothes that cover the skin, and other ways to avoid mosquito bites.

Every morning I get up to cook, then feed my son, and drive him to daycare in the near-by village. I have to do a lot of the house chores since my wife is pregnant. A few years ago we opened a small shop so after I come back from daycare, I run the shop during the morning rush hours. This is the time when villagers usually come to me for help, consultations and support, as I am the deputy village chief. Later in the morning, most villagers are gone to their fields and that’s when I go to conduct malaria sessions in other villages.

In the project’s early years, people often mistook us for government officials who came to help them obtain Thai citizenship. It took us awhile to get them to understand the goals of our visits. However, the most challenging part of my work is conducting sessions in villages that are known for drug dealing. People always warn me about how dangerous these villages are so I fear for my own safety and my family’s when I have to conduct sessions in such places. The locals are afraid that visitors could be undercover spies for the police, so they are wary of any outsiders.

Besides the extra money that this job brings me each month, I enjoy teaching the locals about malaria. I often go back to visit families six months later and find that they still remember what I taught them, which is very rewarding.

I honestly feel that people are more aware of malaria now. They know that malaria is transmitted via mosquitos; many of them take precautions against mosquito bites by sleeping under mosquito nets and applying repellent. Most villagers didn’t even know about repellent before we handed it out during awareness sessions. Later on some families were even willing to pay for the repellent themselves. Before this project started there were several cases yearly, but for the past two years there was only one case of malaria in our community. I am happy that our hard work is paying off.

As told to Monica Chiriac and Amaralak Khamhong