Cookies on this website
We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Continue' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

In the past few months, the Shoklo Malaria Research Unit (SMRU) has begun a campaign to make pregnant Karen women and their husbands aware of the importance of pre-conceptual folate to prevent neural tube defects in newborns.

Composite photo of researchers meeting with local people in the SMRU healthcare centre, with a poster

In the past few months, the Shoklo Malaria Research Unit (SMRU) has begun a campaign to make pregnant Karen women and their husbands aware of the importance of pre-conceptual folate to prevent neural tube defects (NTD) in newborns. NTDs are a severe problem in the Thai-Myanmar border areas served by SMRU, with 12 NTD babies per 10,000 births – nearly 10 times higher than in the USA (1.1 per 10,000) and over five times higher than a recent survey from southern Thailand (1.88 per 10,000 births).

To raise awareness among border communities, Andrew Stevens (left in top photo), a student at SMRU, has worked for the past three months with Eh Toe Toe and Beh Blue Do, public health interns with the Karen Refugee Committee Education Entity (KRCEE). Supported by a Government of Australia ASIABound short-term mobility grant, their community wide campaign has reached border-area women of childbearing age and their spouses using surveys, focus groups, community consultations and community based organisation (CBO) workshops.

Folic acid is a B-vitamin essential for proper cell growth and development of the embryo. Although essential in tissue formation, there was little awareness of its benefits and role in preventing NTDs among border area populations and local health workers, with only one quarter of SMRU health workers aware of its benefits.

Involving all parts of the community and getting local NGOs and CBOs to include pre-conceptual folate messaging in their work are essential to making the project effective and sustainable, and in getting the folic acid message to pregnant women and their husbands. 

 “The workshops with CBOs were humbling. Once participants understood the problem they were very willing to consider the best ways to disseminate the messaging to the community,” said Dr Rose McGready, SMRU Deputy Director. “The other unexpected response was from the men at outpatients who wanted to take more than one flyer for distribution. They really wanted to help get the word out on folates.”

- Text and pictures by Andrew Steven, Suphak Nosten and Rose McGready

Similar stories

Lack of evidence is key barrier to using portable devices to detect poor quality medicines

A series of papers which reviewed portable devices to detect poor quality medicines has concluded major gaps in scientific evidence remain a key barrier for regulators to implement surveillance systems using such devices.

Tropical Medicine DPhil Students awarded NDM Prize

Every year, the Nuffield Department of Medicine awards NDM Prizes to our most outstanding students. This year, Mo yin and Rebecca Inglis (both at MORU) were highly commended in the category NDM Overall Prize, for conducting research with an outstanding impact. Will Schilling (MORU) received a prize as first year DPhil student, and Mohammad Ali (OCGHR) as second year DPhil student. Our warmest congratulations to you all!

New study alerts to the risk of poor quality medicines used to prevent and treat cardiovascular disease

There are important but neglected issues with substandard and falsified medicines and medical products used to prevent and treat cardiovascular diseases. From limited available data, MORU and IDDO scientists found about one fifth of medicines reported as sampled in the literature were substandard or falsified. This systematic review suggests that more and better quality data and data sharing are needed to better understand the global burden of this problem and inform interventions.

Congratulations new Associate Professors

Following the meeting of the Medical Sciences Divisional Committee to consider applications for the conferral of the title of Associate Professor, we are pleased to announce that Rashan Haniffa, Dorcas Kamuya, Isabella Oyier, Le Van Tan and Timothy Walker have been awarded the title Associate Professor

COPCOV now world’s largest COVID-19 pre-exposure prophylaxis trial

A 6-week recruitment burst at Aga Khan University in Pakistan led the way as COPCOV enrolment broke 1600 participants. Led by MORU, COPCOV is the world’s largest trial trying to determine if hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine prevent COVID-19.

How did people in Europe and SE Asia experience the first COVID-19 wave?

An international team, led by Phaik Yeong Cheah, conducted an anonymous online survey from May-June 2020, asking 5,058 people in Thailand, Malaysia, United Kingdom, Italy and Slovenia to share their experiences. Anne Osterrieder and colleagues report the unequal impacts of public health measures, and the prevalence of ‘fake news’.