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.

Meeting with local people

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

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’.

Recruitment surges in COPCOV COVID-19 prevention study

As high COVID-19 daily cases and highly transmissible variants risk overwhelming countries’ healthcare systems, COPCOV, the world’s last-standing large prophylaxis RCT, faces tight timelines to determine whether chloroquine/ hydroxychloroquine prevents COVID-19

Simple blood tests may help improve malaria diagnosis in clinical studies

About one-third of children diagnosed with severe malaria may instead have an alternative cause of illness, but simple blood tests could help researchers distinguish between the two and speed up research on new treatments.

OUCRU scientists identify combination of biological markers associated with severe dengue

Nguyen Lam Vuong, Sophie Yacoub & colleagues have identified a combination of biological markers in patients with dengue that could predict whether they go on to develop moderate to severe disease. Biomarkers are used to identify the state or risk of a disease in patients; these findings could aid the development of biomarker panels for clinical use and help improve triage and risk prediction in patients with dengue.

RECOVERY trial finds Regeneron’s monoclonal antibody combination reduces deaths for hospitalised COVID-19 patients who have not mounted their own immune response

The Randomised Evaluation of COVID-19 Therapy (RECOVERY) trial has demonstrated that the investigational antibody combination developed by Regeneron reduces the risk of death when given to patients hospitalised with severe COVID-19 who have not mounted a natural antibody response of their own.