A novel project using drama, art and music workshops has helped to educate remote Cambodian villagers about the importance of taking anti-malaria pills.
UniSA researcher Dr Renly Lim, along with a team of international researchers from the UK, Thailand, the Netherlands and Cambodia, trialled a highly unusual but effective method to increase the uptake of mass drug administration (MDA) in 20 remote villages in the South East Asian country.
By engaging villagers in a series of drama workshops, the researchers helped them weave together entertaining stories using caricatures to drive home the dangers of mosquitoes and convince locals to receive treatment.
While malaria rates are declining overall in Southeast Asia, transmission is still high in many rural areas, due in part to illiteracy, lack of health services and education, and lack of trust in officials.
“It was important to travel to each village and reach people who might not have access to health education.”
Meetings were held with local stakeholders to help recruit and train drama performers on key malaria messages and the best ways to impart them through acting, art and music.
“The MDA uptake following the visits averaged 84 per cent – exceeding the target and resulting in some very positive feedback from the villagers,” Dr Lim says.
The key messages reiterated the need to use insecticide-treated bed nets and repellents, the importance of early diagnosis and treatment and the risks of forest-acquired malaria.
The project also combined traditional entertainment with the modern; using drones to film the villagers and sharing photos and videos on Facebook across the province.
Across the villages, attendance rates at the drama performances averaged 66 per cent and led to an increased willingness among locals to do blood tests, Dr Lim says.
“Also, in 2014, an unlicensed doctor infected more than 200 people with HIV in a Cambodian village, leading to the deaths of 10 people. This raised concerns and rumours that healthcare personnel came to the villages to collect their blood and sell it,” she says.
The researchers hope to roll out the project across Cambodia to promote high MDA coverage, although this is contingent on funding.