Myanmar is one of the countries at the epicenter of the developing resistance of malaria parasites to artemisinin based drugs. This means there is a strong need for prompt, appropriate and thorough diagnosis and treatment of febrile illnesses and malaria as well as the regular use of effective malaria preventive technologies. The 2015-16 Demographic and Health Survey for the country is thus a timely source of information to improve malaria interventions. Highlights from the DHS follow.
The first major concern is both lack of insecticide treated nets as well as low use of those available as the pie chart from the DHS makes clear. Ironically 97% of households have some kind of net, but 73% do not have an insecticide treated one. Although the Global Fund has supported distribution of 4.3 million ITNs in the country, there are over 56 million people living there. The US President’s Malaria Initiative has procured nearly 900,000 ITNs for the country. Although low across all economic strata, the lowest wealth quintile have the highest ITN possession (35%).
The 2013 concept note submitted by Myanmar to Global Fund under the new funding mechanism identifies many of the challenges: “Factors that may cause inequity to services for treatment and prevention: There are several population groups, which are poorly served by the health system and malaria services such as those living in remote border areas, migrant populations, forest workers and miners where malaria transmission is intense. Many of them are internal and external migrants who usually have limited access to malaria prevention and control. Major factors include distance from health facilities and poor awareness of malaria and its prevention.”
Key strategies in the Global Fund Concept Note do address quality malaria diagnostics and appropriate treatment. Unfortunately DHS results do not yet show the impact of improved diagnosis and treatment. “Overall, 16% of children under age 5 had a fever in the 2 weeks before the survey. Advice or treatment was sought for 65% of these children with recent fever, and 3% had blood taken from a finger or heel, presumably for diagnostic testing.” A variety of public and private sources were used to seek fever treatment, but “Only 1% of children received antimalarial drugs for treatment of fever in the 2 weeks preceding the survey.”
In addition to formal donors, there are coalitions and consortia who provide encouragement, technical assistance, advocacy and capacity building for eliminating malaria in the Asia-Pacific region. While the country needs to take stronger leadership in malaria elimination, all groups need to come together and strengthen the malaria interventions in Myanmar as these have implications for eliminating the disease in the region as a whole.