Latest Malaria Consortium research published in Global Health: Science and Practice outlines how mobile malaria workers in Cambodia who are culturally embedded and trusted by communities contributed to a substantial increase in the number of people accessing malaria services during the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite concern over reduced use of malaria services due to the pandemic, increased service uptake was recorded in provinces where Malaria Consortium supports mobile malaria interventions.
In anticipation of potential disruption to intervention coverage and uptake of malaria services as a result of the pandemic, Malaria Consortium set up an internal monitoring mechanism using performance output indicators. The study focused on mobile health posts and mobile malaria workers in three provinces in north east Cambodia, Preah Vihear, Stung Treng, and Ratanakiri Provinces. Comparisons were made between output indicators reported in 2020 and in the same month-period of the previous year.
Mobile malaria workers
“What we have learned from our experience in Cambodia is that we are not seeing major disruptions to malaria services which could jeopardise Cambodia’s progress towards malaria elimination. This is largely attributed to the mobile malaria workers, and adaptive strategies for both malaria and COVID-19 that have helped to build resilience and ensure continuity of malaria services.
Our success comes from having a community-based network of mobile malaria workers. This builds trust with communities and helps to ensure services are tailored and effective. We hope this model can be replicated in other parts of the world where the continuity of malaria diagnosis and treatment in the community is challenged by pandemics like COVID-19,” said Dr Htin Kyaw Thu, Malaria Consortium Regional Representative and Technical Specialist, Asia Region.
Mobile malaria workers enjoy a reputation for trustworthiness because they are recruited from within communities in which they work, often selected by communities themselves; people often know them personally and they speak the same language. Mobile malaria health workers are chosen by the community and are part of the broader cadre of community health workers (CHWs) that specifically support malaria activities for hard-to-reach communities in Cambodia.
Based on a COVID-19 risk assessment in the country at the start of the pandemic, Malaria Consortium quickly developed and implemented a mitigation plan to ensure mobile malaria workers were able to continue providing malaria services without putting themselves or their patients at risk. These COVID-19 adjustments showed to be successful in sustaining people’s trust in the mobile malaria workers and their services in times of uncertainty.
The study took place as a part of the second Regional Artemisinin-resistance Initiative (RAI2E) programme which has previously highlighted the benefits of tailoring malaria responses to local populations. Funding is provided by The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria, Regional Artemisinin-resistance Initiative (RAI) follow-up grant RAI2-Elimination.
Malaria Consortium is one of the implementing partners of the Cambodia National Center for Parasitology, Entomology, and Malaria Control (CNM). It supports the provision of early diagnostic and treatment services for malaria among remote communities through mobile malaria workers and mobile malaria posts in the three north eastern provinces. The approach was developed in alignment with the National Strategic Plan for Elimination of Malaria, in close collaboration with CNM, and built on lessons learned from the earlier Regional Artemisinin-resistance Initiative (RAI) project.