Deviance and resistance: Malaria elimination in the greater Mekong subregion

Chris Lyttleton*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Malaria elimination rather than control is increasingly globally endorsed, requiring new approaches wherein success is not measured by timely treatment of presenting cases but eradicating all presence of infection. This shift has gained urgency as resistance to artemisinin-combination therapies spreads in the Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS) posing a threat to global health security. In the GMS, endemic malaria persists in forested border areas and elimination will require calibrated approaches to remove remaining pockets of residual infection. A new public health strategy called 'positive deviance' is being used to improve health promotion and community outreach in some of these zones. However, outbreaks sparked by alternative understandings of appropriate behaviour expose the unpredictable nature of 'border malaria' and difficulties eradication faces. Using a recent spike in infections allegedly linked to luxury timber trade in Thai borderlands, this article suggests that opportunities for market engagement can cause people to see 'deviance' as a means to material advancement in ways that increase disease vulnerability. A malaria outbreak in Ubon Ratchathani was investigated during two-week field-visit in November 2014 as part of longer project researching border malaria in Thai provinces. Qualitative data were collected in four villages in Ubon's three most-affected districts. Discussions with villagers focused primarily on changing livelihoods, experience with malaria, and rosewood cutting. Informants included ten men and two women who had recently overnighted in the nearby forest. Data from health officials and villagers are used to frame Ubon's rise in malaria transmission within moral and behavioural responses to expanding commodity supply-chains. The article argues that elimination strategies in the GMS must contend with volatile outbreaks among border populations wherein 'infectiousness' and 'resistance' are not simply pathogen characteristics but also behavioural dimensions born of insistent market aspirations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)144-152
Number of pages9
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
Volume150
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2016

Keywords

  • Malaria elimination
  • GMS borders
  • Thailand
  • Rosewood
  • Global health security

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