Archive for the ‘Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’ Category
Respondent-Driven Sampling on the Thailand-Cambodia Border: Can Malaria Cases be Contained in Mobile Migrant Workers?
Respondent driven sampling methodology, for hidden populations, is an effective strategy to study the migrant populations from Myanmar and Cambodia on the Thailand-Cambodia border, write Amnat Khamsiriwatchara, Piyaporn Wangroongsarb, Julie Thwing, James Eliades, Wichai Satimai, Charles Delacollette and Jaranit Kaewkungwal in the Malaria Journal.
There is substantial population movement across the Thai-Cambodian border that is largely driven by economics. Migrants from both Cambodia and Myanmar settle for varying periods of time in Thailand, often in search of work. The International Organization of Migration reported that Thailand has attracted increasing numbers of migrant workers, mostly from neighbouring countries with over one million registered migrant workers entering the country since 2004.
Channels for migration, in particular labour migration, are defined by the policy of the destination country, usually in response to the demand of domestic labour markets for foreign workers. When the supply through established channels does not match the demand, irregular migration dynamics develop, and migrants enter illegally and undocumented.
While various government ministries attempt to collect data on migrant workers, they usually have information on the number of registered migrants and those applying for work permits, but little information on the unregistered migrants. The true size of the migrant worker population in Thailand, in particular of irregular migrants, is notoriously difficult to quantify.
Rather than classifying migrant workers as documented or undocumented, the Thailand Ministry of Public Health defines migrants who have been in Thailand for more than six months as M1, and migrants who have been in Thailand for less than six months as M2.
Both M1 and M2 migrants are eligible to receive diagnosis and treatment for malaria free of charge at malaria clinics in border zones. Patients who cross the border for a day to seek treatment at the border clinics are counted among the M2. Migrants in Thailand account for a higher proportion of cases than Thai citizens, especially among the M2 migrants.
CONTAINMENT recently spoke to Dr. Char Meng Chuor the new Director of the National Center for Parasitology, Entomology and Malaria Control (CNM).
One big concern is malaria on the move. How important is the role of village malaria workers or VMWs in the early diagnosis and treatment of mobile migrant workers?
Yes, indeed, malaria on the move among mobile migrant workers is worrying. But first let me clarify one thing on terminology. I like to refer to the village malaria workers as community health workers because they can also work on other diseases at the community-level. At present in each health centers there are only seven to eight full-time health staff as first-line health workers. And as you know most of the villages are far from the health centers. So we need these community health workers to support the work of the health centers.
When Khmer people fall sick, they end to seek treatment from the nearest source available to them. And most often, these community health workers are nearest to them. For that reason they are so important in the fight to contain multi-drug resistant malaria. These community health workers not only carry out early diagnosis and treatment, but they also provide vital information to the mobile migrant workers on how they can protect themselves against malaria.
Counterfeit and substandard anti-malarials are one of the causes for the emergence of MDR-falciparum malaria. What are the efforts to eliminate these counterfeit and substandard drugs sold by the private sector and also enforce the ban on oral artemisinin monotheraphy?
First of all, we have to ensure that communities must have access to genuine medicines. This is essential. We can ban oral monotherapies, but if sick people do not know where to get effective anti-malarials, we will go back to square one. Secondly I need to emphasize the importance of law enforcement. The elimination of malaria by 2025 is a government priority and so it’s important that legislation is in place for the law enforcers to start the crackdown of counterfeit malaria medicines.
But let us not forget that we have to also work with the private sector through partnerships. We are now drafting the strategy for the public-private mix, in terms of malaria. We’re still in the learning process, when it comes to dealing with the private sector. But there’s a lot of donor goodwill to provide technical assistance. The chink in the armour is the private sector because most Khmers when they fall sick go to the pharmacies or drug stores first. We have to convince the private sector on why they need to be good and responsible providers to prevent a public health emergency that could cross borders.
What are the lessons learnt from the Containment Project, and how can these lessons be used as we move from malaria control to elimination?
CNM has been implementing the containment project since January 2009, and we have many lessons to share. The first and most important lesson is that it is possible to reduce malaria incidence in the target zones through good management and implementation of proven strategies in malaria control, such as high-level coverage of long-lasting insecticide treated bed nets, provision of free diagnosis and treatment at the community level, and engagement of the community through malaria education and awareness programs. CNM, through the support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the assistance of technical partners such as WHO, Institute Pasteur and Malaria Consortium, and others, has helped us achieve this.
We have also found that, when malaria cases begin to decrease, the role of systematic gathering of health information, including malaria surveillance and response becomes very important. As malaria cases decrease in Cambodia and we are on our path towards elimination, we need to strengthen surveillance systems to capture information on cases up to the village level, and also concentrate on responding to increases in cases through distribution of bed nets and indoor residual spraying.
Another lesson learned is the need to engage and work closely with the private sector in order to be informed of those malaria cases treated by the private sector, in pharmacies and private clinics, and to provide incentives to the private sector to help in the fight against the sale and manufacture of artemisinin monotherapies, as well as fake and substandard drugs.
Also, we need to be sure to have the full support and participation of communities in the fight against artemisinin-resistant malaria, and also move towards elimination. This can be facilitated through wide-ranging media awareness campaigns, community mobilization through local community organizations and distribution of information, education and communication materials, as well as advocacy by involved leaders and authorities.
Despite language difficulties, migrant Mon rubber plantation workers in Thailand’s Trad province give their full cooperation to malaria workers in the fixed-schedule clinics. Nat Sumon reports.
The economy of Trad, along the Thai-Cambodian border, is fuelled by mobile migrant workers from Cambodia who meet the Thai province’s labour shortages in fruit-picking, rice harvesting, logging, rubber tapping, construction work and retail businesses. But now the economic landscape seems to be changing fast with the influx of migrant workers from Myanmar. And they can be found almost everywhere in Thailand – including Trad’s rubber plantations.
While a worker can make a decent living from tapping rubber, because of the current high global prices, Thais, however, find that job unattractive. Because of this acute shortage of labour in Thai rubber plantations, owners have not much of a choice but to seek workers from neighbouring countries. And mobile migrant workers from Mon State in Myanmar have answered that clarion call, albeit at wages lower than Thais.
Sitting leisurely in his cousin’s thatch-roofed wooden house, Kyaw Htoo (not his real name) recalled his journey from Mon State 13 years ago. He was a rubber tapper in Myanmar before moving to Thailand. He said the Mon community in Trad had grown over the years, crossing the Thai-Myanmar border in the west to work in the numerous rubber plantations in Thailand’s far-flung eastern province.
“More and more Mon workers cross the border because of word-of-mouth that there are jobs in the rubber plantations,” said Kyaw Htoo.
Nonetheless, there is a public health concern with this influx of Mon migrant workers from malaria-endemic Myanmar. Cross-border and mobile migrant populations could be the source of the spread of multi-drug resistant malaria parasites due to their back and forth travel between malaria endemic areas and their place of work.
Because of these concerns, the fixed-schedule malaria clinics run by the Bureau of Vector-Borne Diseases (BVBD), with technical assistance from WHO, were introduced to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation-funded Containment Project to enable on-the-spot detection of the plasmodium parasite in the itinerant workers. These fixed-schedule malaria clinics operate right on the border, in villages where Thailand and Cambodia meet.
Kyaw Htoo and his cousins first got to know about the mosquito-borne disease during the visit of a malaria worker from the Bor Rai fixed-schedule malaria clinic. “There was a language barrier at first. Though we did not fully understand the disease, we now know it’s caused by mosquitoes,” said Kyaw Htoo.
“The malaria worker told us to sleep under insecticide-treated nets, wear long clothes to protect ourselves from mosquito bites while we were out tapping rubber before dawn, and apply mosquito repellent,” added the Mon worker. “We understood that clearly and we are following exactly what the malaria worker told us,” he emphasized.
Aung Naing (not his real name), a cousin of Kyaw Htoo, moved to Trad from Mon State a couple of years ago.
“Whenever I have a fever, I’ll go to the malaria clinic to have my blood tested for malaria,” he revealed. Then he paused and smiled. “So far none of the Mon workers here have tested positive for malaria,” Aung Naing pointed out. “We take seriously all the preventive measures, as instructed to us by the malaria worker.”
Like Kyaw Htoo and Aung Naing, 18-year-old Htun Htun (not his real name) who moved to Trad province after spending five years in rubber plantations in southern Thailand, does not fully understand the causes of malaria. But he told CONTAINMENT that he took the malaria worker’s advice on disease prevention seriously.
The usefulness of the early diagnosis and treatment provided by the fixed-scheduled malaria clinics run by BVBD is clearly evident.
Every week Mr. Angkoon Chawilai, one of the malaria workers in Bor Rai Malaria clinic, would visit the rubber tappers in his area to do blood tests and administer treatment if there are positive cases, give out ITNs and mosquito repellents and educate the Mon populations on malaria prevention.
“The local people know me and I’ve always have had good cooperation from the rubber tappers,” said Mr. Chawilai. “The Mon rubber workers are very receptive to malaria prevention information,” he added.
The malaria worker revealed that Mon migrant workers in the rubber plantations were less mobile compared to those migrant workers involved in logging and seasonal fruit-picking.
“This is a positive point when it comes to malaria containment because their movements are controlled as they’re not moving about from place to place spreading the malaria parasite,” Mr. Chawilai pointed out.
Malaria Consortium, with the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation-funded Containment Project, is pioneering a Day 3 positive alert system in Ta Sanh district, western Cambodia, using mobile phone and web-based technology to facilitate response in real-time. CONTAINMENT’s Sonny Inbaraj reports.
EFFECTIVE containment of multi-drug resistant falciparum malaria depends on timely acquisition of information on new cases, their location and frequency. This is to plan interventions and focus attention on specific locations to prevent an upsurge in transmission.
Response in western Cambodia’s Ta Sanh district involves combining the process of positive diagnoses through microscopy of Day 3 positives at the Ta Sanh health centre from blood slides sent by Village Malaria Workers, to an alert system using mobile phone and web-based technology to help pinpoint potential outbreaks of malaria and target interventions to foci where parasite reservoirs are likely to be present.
The proportion of patients who still carry malaria parasites on the third day of treatment is currently the best measure available of slow parasite clearance and can be used as a warning system for confirmation of artemisinin resistance.
In Ta Sanh, the Village Malaria Workers or VMWs play a crucial role in the early detection and treatment of the killer falciparum malaria. In September 2010 the USAID-funded Cambodia Malaria Prevention and Control Project (MCC), implemented by University Research Co., LLC (URC), trained these VMWs to prepare blood slides from those who tested positive for falciparum malaria from rapid diagnostic tests. They were also trained to carry out a three-day directly observed treatment (DOT) of the Pf cases with the co-formulated ACT dihydroartemisinin – piperaquine.
Chou Khea, a 21-year-old Village Malaria Worker, trained by MCC in Ta Sanh district’s remote Ou Nonoung village tells CONTAINMENT how she carries out DOT.
“Immediately after a villager tests positive for falciparum malaria in a rapid diagnostic test (RDT), I prepare the blood slides. Then I give the drugs, which the villager has to take in front of me,” says Khea.
“On Day 2 and Day 3, I’ll go to the villager’s house and make sure that the drugs are again taken in my presence,” she adds. “After 72 hours from the first intake of the anti-malaria drugs, I’ll be at the villager’s house again to take his or her blood sample for preparing another blood slide.”
Chou Khea then takes the Day Zero and Day 3 slides, together with the used RDT, to the Ta Sanh Health Centre 30-kilometres away from her village.
“I usually take a motor-dop (motorcycle taxi) to the health centre. But most of the motor-dop drivers are reluctant to use the track to health centre in the rainy season because of the slippery mud. Also many of them are scared of the wild animals and land-mines in the area,” she tells CONTAINMENT with concern. “I hope to have my own motorcycle soon, so that I’ll be able to transport the slides and RDTs faster,” she adds with a smile.
At the Ta Sanh Health Centre, the Day 3 slides are examined by a microscopist and if asexual malaria parasites are seen they are graded as positive. The microscopist immediately sends out an SMS on a mobile phone, using a dedicated number, to a database indicating the village code and the sex of the patient.
Malaria Consortium pioneered the use of this alert system in Ta Sanh, with support from Cambodia’s National Centre for Parasitology, Entomology and Malaria Control (CNM) and the World Health Organization’s Malaria Containment Project funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Malaria Consortium’s Information Systems Manager Steve Mellor explains the use of cellular text messaging (SMS) as a viable tool to send alerts and map Day 3 positives in real-time on Google Earth.
“We use FrontlineSMS, an open-source software, that enables users to send and receive text messages with groups of people through mobile phones,” Mellor tells CONTAINMENT.
“FrontlineSMS interfaces with an MS Access database system that was developed to host the SMS data and to provide validation on the data received and to send an automatic reply to the sender containing any validation errors found, or to confirm that the data has been accepted,” he adds.
There are plans to upscale this mobile phone and web-based alert system with InSTEDD, an innovative humanitarian technology NGO, to map all Day Zero cases…
In the Access database, a script interfaces with Google Earth and maps out the locations of the Day 3 positives based on the village code. The mapping on Google Earth is essential as it gives a clear visualisation of the terrain and helps CNM, WHO and the USAID-funded Cambodia Malaria Prevention and Control Project (MCC) to plan coordinated interventions in terms of case follow-up on Day Zero and Day 3 and carry out epidemiological and entomological investigations.
“All this happens in real-time and alert text messages are sent out simultaneously to the operational district malaria supervisor, the provincial health department, CNM and the administrators of the database,” Mellor points out.
There are plans to upscale this mobile phone and web-based alert system with InSTEDD, an innovative humanitarian technology NGO, to map all Day Zero cases. Malaria Consortium and CNM are also in direct talks with Mobitel, one of Cambodia’s main telecommunication carriers.
“We are in negotiations with Mobitel for a free number and also free SIM cards to be distributed to health centre staff and village malaria workers,” Mellor reveals. “After all, this is for a public good.”
Besides plans to map all Day Zero cases, Malaria Consortium is also exploring the possibility of sending alert messages in Khmer script.
“This will be a breakthrough and we hope this will help facilitate a quick response mechanism from CNM and other partners,” says Mellor.
The drive to Ou Nonoung village in Western Cambodia’s Ta Sanh district is not for the faint-hearted. The almost 45 degree climbs and the steep plunges on the dirt track certainly calls for skilled driving of the 4-WD.
One wrong turn and the vehicle could turn turtle. One wrong detour into the bush and the 4-WD could set off one of the hundreds of unexploded ordinances in the soft dirt – a stark reminder of the war-torn years that almost sent Cambodia back to the Dark Ages.
Ou Nonoung village, in the foothills just below the Cardamom Mountains, lies at the fringe of the forests. In this ’old village’ that goes back to the dark Khmer Rouge-era, villagers have their farms in forest clearings. Throughout the year for rice cultivation and agricultural activities they stay overnight in temporary shelters. These movements in relation to agricultural activities have been identified as risk factors associated with malaria infection.
In these harsh conditions, village malaria workers or VMWs play a crucial role in the early detection and treatment of the killer falciparum malaria. But developments lately have been disturbing.
Records from the Ou Nonoung VMW between September 2010 to February 2011 indicate that six villagers had tested positive for falciparum malaria. The results were from rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs). And out of the six Pf positive cases, three still had plasmodium parasites in their blood after a three-day course of treatment with dihydroartemisinin-piperaquine – the artemisinin combination therapy for uncomplicated falciparum malaria currently used along the Thai-Cambodian border.
The Day Three positive cases were verified by microscopy in the Ta Sanh district health center, from blood slides prepared by the VMW from the patients’ blood samples after the three-day course of treatment.
Though the Pf positive cases are relatively small due to active interventions in the Bill & Melinda Gates-funded Containment Project, the presence of Day Three positive patients is a cause for concern.
WHO’s ‘Guidelines for the treatment of malaria’ indicate that: “To eliminate at least 90 percent of the parasitaemia, a three-day course of the artemisinin is required to cover up to three post-treatment asexual cycles of the parasite. This ensures that only about 10 percent of the parasitamia is present for clearance by the partner medicine, thus reducing the potential for development of resistance.” This is the rationale for using dihydroartemisinin and its partner drug piperaquine that is available as a co-formulated tablet.
Host immunity and splenic function are important contributors to parasite clearance after artemisinin treatment. Reduction in herd immunity, perhaps resulting from reduced transmission, could decrease parasite clearance in Cambodia
The question asked is that if symptoms persist 3-14 days after initiation of drug therapy in accordance with the recommended treatment regimen, is that an indication of resistance?
In a recent interview with CONTAINMENT, in Pailin in western Cambodia, Dr. Robert Newman, WHO’s Global Malaria Program director, warns of a worse case scenario.
“The worse case would be the spread of the delay in clearance of the [plasmodium] parasites. Right now we are finding an increase in the percentage of patients who are still positive on Day 3. That will be the hallmark of this problem [of resistance],” said Dr. Newman.
Added Dr. Newman: “If that were to continue to worsen, artemisinins would become less and less efficacious. It would then take longer and longer for patients to clear [plasmodium parasites in their blood], and we could get to the point of truly having failures to ACTs.”
But Dr. Newman clarified that though there is resistance to artemisinins, artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs) still remain efficacious. “That is a very important message,” he stressed.
But he issued a stark warning. “If that situation worsens, if were to lose ACTs, and if it spreads to the shores of Africa, we could have a public health catastrophe.”
Acknowledging that there is slow clearance rate in Western Cambodia, Anderson, et al. (2010)  ask whether slow clearance rate results from parasite, host, or other factors specific to the population in that part of the country.
Writing in the ‘The Journal of Infectious Diseases’, quoting previous studies on the comparison of parasites in Western Cambodia to that in the western part of Thailand along the Thai-Myanmar border, the authors point out that: “ Parasites with slow clearance rate after ACT do not show increased resistance to artemisinin compounds with conventional in vitro testing compared with parasites from western Thailand, which show rapid clearance rate.”
The authors offer several explanations for slow clearance rates.
“Host immunity and splenic function are important contributors to parasite clearance after artemisinin treatment. Reduction in herd immunity, perhaps resulting from reduced transmission, could decrease parasite clearance in Cambodia,” they write.
 Anderson, T., Nair. S., Nkhoma, S., Williams, J., Imwong, M., Yi, P., Socheat, D., Das, D., Chotivanich,K., Day, N., White,N., Dondorp, A. 2010, “High heritability of malaria parasite clearance rate indicates a genetic basis for Artemisinin resistance in Western Cambodia”, The Journal of Infectious Diseases, vol. 201, no. 9, pp. 1326 – 1330.
CONTAINMENT recently spoke to Dr. Robert Newman, Director of WHO’s Global Malaria Program, who was on a field visit to Pailin in Western Cambodia.
There is a long history in malaria control efforts. What’s different now and how has the landscape changed?
Obviously the big issue here right now is the emergence of resistance to artemisinins and this is not just an issue along the Cambodian – Thailand border, but is also a global issue. We rely very heavily on artemisinin-based combination therapies or ACTs and artemisinin is the key ingredient in that combination.
And the stakes are very high because right now we do not have other drugs in the development pipeline that are likely to reach markets before five years, the earliest. And that is an optimistic projection.
So it is really critical that we bring all forces together to try and preserve the efficacy of these valuable medicines.
Here in Western Cambodia we have an extraordinary effort made by the Cambodian National Malaria Control Program and their counterpart program in Thailand to contain the spread of these resistant parasites. The efforts here, I think, have been groundbreaking in their comprehensiveness. Some of the approaches that have been taken are also novel and pioneering.
The Cambodian government has banned the sale of monotherapies. Do you think there should be a similar ban regionally within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations or ASEAN?
Absolutely. I think we all agree now at this point that the use of oral artemisinin monotherapies is probably the single greatest factor for the spread of artemisinin-resistant parasites. In 2007 there was a World Health Assembly resolution that called for a halt in the marketing and use of these compounds.
The worst case would be the spread of the delay in clearance of the [plasmodium] parasites. Right now we are finding an increase in the percentage of patients who are still positive on Day 3. That will be the hallmark of this problem [of resistance]…
While there has been some forward movement in the number of countries that have complied both in terms of shutting down the manufacturer, marketing of these drugs and to some extent in their use, we still have to go some way. This is such an urgent issue. The time to do that is now.
We need all countries, globally – particularly here in the Greater Mekong sub-region and ASEAN to ensure that these dangerous medicines are removed immediately from the market place.
What are the differences between containment and elimination; elimination and eradication?
Containment would mean in this context that we take these resistant parasites and don’t let them spread outside the area where they have been identified. So at this point the confirmed areas are along the Thai-Cambodian border, although there are other areas in the Greater Mekong sub-region where we have suspicion of their emergence.
Elimination would mean that we would actually be able to eliminate all of the parasites. That is a very difficult thing to document. Obviously, if we are able to eliminate these resistant parasites then the risk of their spread is essentially gone.
The term elimination is more generally used to refer to the reduction at the country level of local transmission of malaria to zero. So usually we talk of eliminating malaria at a country level.
Eradication is reserved for the global incidence of malaria going to down to zero. And that’s for all plasmodium species and not just for falciparum. That obviously remains the ultimate public health goal, although I believe that will take 40 or more years to achieve. It would require the development of new transformative tools that we do not have, yet.
What’s the worst case scenario for MDR-falciparum malaria?
The worst case would be the spread of the delay in clearance of the [plasmodium] parasites. Right now we are finding an increase in the percentage of patients who are still positive on Day 3. That will be the hallmark of this problem [of resistance].
If that were to continue to worsen, artemisinins would become less and less efficacious. It would then take longer and longer for patients to clear [plasmodium parasites in their blood], and we could get to the point of truly having failures to ACTs.
Right now we have resistance to artemisinins, but artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs) still remain efficacious. That is a very important message.
But if that situation worsens, if were to lose ACTs, and if it spreads to the shores of Africa, we could have a public health catastrophe.
As you know we still have more than 700,000 estimated deaths a year in Africa from malaria. We rely entirely on ACTs for the treatment of falciparum malaria. If we were to lose those medicines in Africa, that would be a catastrophe. This is precisely what the extraordinary efforts in the Containment Project, here, in the Greater Mekong sub-region are trying to prevent.
The lessons learned from the feedback at the meeting of the National Task Force of Cambodia will be useful to other countries in the Greater Mekong Sub-region in the push for a regional containment agenda towards the elimination of artemisinin-resistant falciparum malaria.
This was the message put forward by the Secretary of State for the Ministry of Health, His Excellency Chou Yin Sim, when he opened the third Cambodian Task Force meeting on December 3, 2010 at the Phnom Penh Hotel.
“The National Task Force of Cambodia provides national supervision to the Containment Project funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation,” he told the meeting attended by WHO, the National Malaria Control Centre (CNM), and their working partners.
“Elimination of resistant malaria parasites will remain out of reach unless we pay adequate attention to the delivery of health services, including good surveillance of remote areas and migrant populations. This cannot be done without the strengthening of health systems,” stressed H.E. Yin Sim.
H.E. Yin Sim pointed out the strategies that have been effective in the Containment Project.
“The strategies that have been found to be effective in the Containment Project have been the provision of free diagnosis and treatment by village malaria workers and the promotion of the use of LLINs (long-lasting insecticide treated nets) by populations at risk of malaria, especially those who stay overnight in the forest,” he told the meeting.
Another important strategy was the ban on monotherapies that H.E. Yin Sim said had proven to be effective in addressing the spread of multi-drug resistant falciparum malaria.
“The Ministry of Health is committed to eliminating monotherapies and perpetrators will be subjected to administrative measures and legal action,” he said.
“In Cambodia, a ban on monotherapies together with the Public-Private Mix initiative have achieved almost zero prevalence in artemisinin monotherapies as well as a significant reduction in fake and substandard drugs on the market,” said H.E. Yin Sim.
“I do hope this positive example and the lessons learned can be replicated in other countries in the region,” he emphasized.
To reduce drug pressure we also have to engage the private sector – it’s a partner we have to engage with and we are trying work with them and develop strategies to do so…
The World Health Organization has been working intensely with the health ministries of Cambodia and Thailand, in a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation-funded project, to try to wipe out malaria along the Thai-Cambodian border. Encouraging widespread use of mosquito nets is a key part of the strategy to contain the drug resistant malaria parasites. See photos