By Reuben Lim and Thanyarat Kwanpasumon
Twelve-year-old Pha Cha Cho was born in a rural village in Tak province on the Thai side of the Thailand-Myanmar border. He is a Karen, an ethnic group predominantly residing in Myanmar with a large population in Thailand. His parents were also born in Thailand while his grandparents moved from Myanmar decades ago. He and his four other siblings are currently taken care of by his 37-year-old aunt while his parents work in Bangkok as construction labourers. Together with six of his aunt’s children, the family of 11 shares a small open-air wooden house.
The village is completely surrounded by lush, verdant forests. Pha Cha Cho therefore spends most of his time outdoors. “I enjoy being around nature. I climb trees, play games with my friends, bathe, swim and fish in nearby creeks.” Living in close proximity to a forest may seem idyllic but it also poses health risks. The area Pha Cha Cho’s village is situated in has been designated as a malaria zone by the Thai Bureau of Vector Bourne Disease.
Pha Cha Cho first came down with the disease in April 2015. “I got sick when I followed my father into forest at night to find food. I had headaches, chills and fever and muscle pain. It felt really uncomfortable.”
He fell victim to the disease four other times throughout the rest of the year. Fortunately for him, diagnosis and treatment facilities were available.
“I knew what the symptoms were after the first time I got infected. Whenever I had them, I had to walk for an hour to the nearest Malaria Clinic 10 kms away, if the Malaria Post in my village was closed. It was difficult because of the hills.”
Pha Cha Cho was able to avoid complications and receive appropriate treatment early on thanks to IOM’s awareness raising activities. Since he contracted malaria five times, IOM migrant health workers reached out to him and his family to educate them on the importance of symptom recognition, treatment completion and risk reduction.
The outreach approach was modified to target children directly so that all ten in the household would know how to minimise the risk of getting bitten by mosquitoes and recognize symptoms.
Mosquito nets were also given to his family for protection. Pha Cha Cho was able to make a full recovery from his most recent infection in October 2015. He has remained healthy since. “I am going to be more careful in the future,” he says.