Expanding the roles of community health workers to sustain programmes during malaria elimination: a meeting report on operational research in Southeast Asia

Dysoley, Lek; Callery, James J.; Bunreth, Voeurng; Vanna, Moul; Davoeung, Chan; Sovann, Yok; You, Sles; Ol, Sam; Tripura, Rupam; Chew, Rusheng; Chandna, Arjun; Christiansen-Jucht, Céline; Hughes, Jayme; Sokomar, Nguon; Sophornarann, Top; Rideout, Jeanne; Veyvath, Tat; Sarith, Oum; Puthy, Thaung; Sothearoth, Hay; An, Sen Sam; Zaman, Sazid Ibna; von Seidlein, Lorenz; Vanthy, Lim; Sodavuth, Preap; Vannak, Chrun; Dondorp, Arjen M.; Lubell, Yoel; Maude, Richard J.; Peto, Thomas J. and Adhikari, Bipin (2024). Expanding the roles of community health workers to sustain programmes during malaria elimination: a meeting report on operational research in Southeast Asia. Malaria Journal, 23, article no. 2.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1186/s12936-023-04828-4

Abstract

In Southeast Asia malaria elimination is targeted by 2030. Cambodia aims to achieve this by 2025, driven in large part by the urgent need to control the spread of artemisinin-resistant falciparum malaria infections. Rapid elimination depends on sustaining early access to diagnosis and effective treatment. In much of Cambodia, rapid elimination will rely on a village malaria worker (VMW) network. Yet as malaria declines and is no longer a common cause of febrile illness, VMWs may become less popular with febrile patients, as VMWs do not diagnose or treat other conditions at present. There is a risk that VMWs become inactive and malaria rebounds before the complete interruption of transmission is achieved. During 2021–23 a large-scale operational research study was conducted in western Cambodia to explore how a VMW network could be sustained by including health activities that cover non-malarial illnesses to encourage febrile patients to continue to attend. 105 VMWs received new rapid diagnostic tests (including dengue antigen–antibody and combined malaria/C-reactive protein tests), were trained in electronic data collection, and attended health education packages on hygiene and sanitation, disease surveillance and first aid, management of mild illness, and vaccination and antenatal care. In August 2023 the National Malaria Control Programme of Cambodia convened a stakeholder meeting in Battambang, Cambodia. Findings from the study were reviewed in the context of current malaria elimination strategies. The discussions informed policy options to sustain the relevance of the VMW network in Cambodia, and the potential for its integration with other health worker networks. This expansion could ensure VMWs remain active and relevant until malaria elimination is accomplished.

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