One Migrant Health Worker Determined to Put an End to Malaria

Date Published:Tuesday, August 2, 2016

by Monica Chiriac and Amaralak Khamhong

Thiraphat introducing the former Chief of Mission, Jeffrey Labovitz, and
translating his opening speech to the community members of
Ban Huay Mae Kiang. After the introduction, Thiraphat and the team
talked about the importance of LLIN.

My full name is Thiraphat Kaelae. My Lahu name is Pajo, but everyone calls me Jo.  

The Lahu are a diverse ethnic group that usually lives in remote settlements away from roads and towns. I was born in a bamboo hut in Chiang Dao district in Chiang Mai. I graduated from a non-formal education center in Chiang Dao. Thirty-three years ago it was very difficult for people to get in and out of the village. I couldn’t study in the formal school because as the eldest, I had to help out my parents with work in the field so we could provide food for our entire 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 a Migrant Health Worker (MHW) since June 2012. Back in the seventh round of the Global Fund malaria project, I was a village health volunteer (VHV) promoting malaria prevention; however, there were still a lot of malaria cases in Ban Jiajan - so with a background in malaria from round seven, I thought it would be nice to continue my work and help combat malaria in my own village.

My work now consists of delivering awareness sessions to migrants, conducting migrant population mapping and Long Lasting Insecticidal Nets (LLIN) need surveys, assisting in LLIN distributions, and writing reports. Our project focuses on educating non-Thai people in malaria endemic areas about malaria and how they can prevent it. Behavior change is our goal. Our suggested prevention methods are sleeping in mosquito nets, applying repellent, wearing clothes that cover their skin, and other ways to avoid mosquito bites.

Thiraphat during one of his malaria awareness sessions with the
community. Some villagers were reticent at first, but once they realized
he had good intentions, he was embraced by the community.

Every morning I get up to cook, then feed my son, eat 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 a while 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.

Thiraphat delivering mosquito repellent to one member of the community.
Most villagers didn’t even know about the existence of mosquito
repellent before he handed it out to them during one of his malaria

Besides the extra money that this job brings me each month, I enjoy teaching the locals about malaria. Some of them are genuinely concerned and truly want to learn more about malaria and to understand how to prevent it. I often go back to visit the same 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 in mosquito nets and apply topical repellent lotion. Most villagers didn’t even know about repellent before I handed it out during my malaria 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 year there was only one case of malaria in our community. I am happy that my hard work is paying off.

Five years from now I will still be living here in Ban Jiajan. As a community leader, I can’t go anywhere - it’s my duty to serve the people. Who knows, I may even become the village chief.