How a Female Migrant Health Worker is Changing Lives

Date Published: Tuesday, August 9, 2016

by Monica Chiriac and Thanyarat Kwanpasumon

My name is Thanisa Aiemsang, but people in the community call me by my Karen name, Mue Lay, as I am of Thai-Karen ethnicity. 

Because of poverty, most of my five siblings never got the chance to go to school. I am the first one who had the opportunity to study and only because it was free. After I graduated from junior high, my sister supported me financially so I could attend high school as well. After graduating from high school, I went to Bangkok in search of a job, but I only stayed there for four days and came back - I realized that Bangkok life was never my dream.

Upon my return, I was fortunate enough to get a job with the Malaria Post at Baan Bor Loo Koe under the Local Health Station. As a Malaria Post Officer, I had to diagnose malaria by RDT. The first time I saw blood piercing through the skin, my hands started shaking. After working for one year, I saved enough money to go to college. During my studies, I had to pay for rent, school, car and food while earning 3000 baht per month. It was exhausting at times, but I was fighting for a better future for myself.

I now work as a Migrant Health Worker (MHW) for IOM. I like my job because get to learn a lot of things by working in the community. I am happy to have the role of “giver” for the community, to educate non-Thai people in remote areas about malaria symptoms and prevention. We need to reinforce the key message that if you live in areas with malaria threats, you get bitten by mosquitoes and develop a fever, you should get blood tests done in order to get a proper diagnosis and treatment.

The hardest part about my job is travelling to remote areas by boat or foot, especially during the rainy season. As a result, it’s sometimes very difficult to do preventive work for ethnic minorities and migrants in such areas. Another problem is that a lot of cases come from very poor backgrounds and we have no budget for situations like this which makes me very sad.

A couple of years ago I met a 12-year-old Karen boy named Pha Cha Cho, living in Mae Hid Key village in Tha Song Yang Sub-district. This village is completely surrounded by verdant forest. The area had been designated as a malaria zone by the Thai Bureau of Vector Bourne Disease. I had to follow up on this case about 3-4 times that year because of his malaria infection. His four siblings and him were being taken care of by their grandmother and two aunts while his parents worked in Bangkok as construction workers. Together with his aunt’s six children, the family of eleven shared a small open-air wooden house. The first time I visited them, they didn’t even know what malaria was so I had to teach them all about malaria prevention and treatment, and now they take precautions. We felt that our presence there really made them happy; that someone was concerned enough to organize activities for them and that they really wanted the help, which was very rewarding.

The number of malaria cases has dropped since we started the project with the community; most of them have been detected because of the increase in facilities. With the migration of people across the border, we need to join hands. The intervention has had a positive impact on the target group and the community because of stakeholders and organizations working together in both malaria prevention and treatment issues.

In the past, people who got malaria didn’t have a lot of choice. Nowadays, people have more choices in term of services such as hospitals, health centers, malaria clinics, malaria posts conveniently situated inside the community. More and more patients with malaria are receiving a prompt diagnosis and effective treatment, and as a result, more lives are being saved.

Thanisa provides malaria education sessions to children at risk of malaria in Mae Hid Key village, Tha Song Yang District, 2016

The children proudly display their work following the malaria education sessions with Thanisa, Tha Song Yang District, 2016