Malaria in Southeast Asia frequently clusters along international borders. For example, while most of Thailand is malaria free, the border region shared with Myanmar continues to have endemic malaria. This spatial pattern is the result of complex interactions between landscape, humans, mosquito vectors, and malaria parasites. An understanding of these complex ecological and socio-cultural interactions is important for designing and implementing malaria elimination efforts in the region. This article offers an ecological perspective on the malaria situation along the Thailand–Myanmar border.
This border region is long (2000 km), mountainous, and the environment ranges from thick forests to growing urban settlements and wet-rice fields. It is also a biologically diverse region. All five species of malaria known to naturally infect humans are present. At least three mosquito vector species complexes, with widely varying behavioural characteristics, exist in the area. The region is also a hub for ethnic diversity, being home to over ten different ethnolinguistic groups, several of which have been engaged in conflict with the Myanmar government now for over half a century. Given the biological and ethnic diversity, as well as the complex socio-political context, malaria control and elimination in the region is challenging.
Despite these complexities, multipronged approaches including collaborations with multiple local organizations, quick access to diagnosis and treatment, prevention of mosquito bites, radical cure of parasites, and mass drug administration appear to be drastically decreasing Plasmodium falciparum infections. Such approaches remain crucial as the region moves toward elimination of P. falciparum and potentially Plasmodium vivax.