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Currently 130,000 people live in refugee camps along the Thai-Burma border. The work carried out by SMRU over the past 20 years has improved therapeutics for malaria and relegated malaria from being the single most important medical problem in these camps, to a rare cause of illness and death amongst refugees.

Filmed in April 2013 at the Shoklo Malaria Research Unit (SMRU) in Mae Sot, and at the Wang Pa Free Clinic and the Mae La refugee camp, this video highlights SMRU's work among Karen and Myanmar refugees, living along the Thailand-Myanmar border.

Dr Francois Nosten, SMRU founder and head, discusses SMRU's work, its objectives and challenges. Dr Nosten warns about the growing public health threat posed by parasite resistance to artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACT); the cornerstone of malaria treatment in all malaria-endemic countries.

Francois Nosten: The main focus of the work of the SMRU is to provide healthcare to the population living on the border which is the migrant population from Myanmar and refugees as well as doing research. Historically, malaria was the first cause of death and disease in this population. It was the first (20 years ago) cause of illness and now it’s lost. And that’s the result of health services and research. The combination of both is very powerful because we learn about the problems very early and then we can apply a solution very early to the population.

The resistance of the malaria parasite to this artemisinin indirectly is probably the greatest threat to public health for the next 10 years. If it spreads to Myanmar and to Bangladesh then it will eventually reach Africa and then we know the result of this will be millions of people dying so, my main concern is to see that the right things is done now to stop it before it is too late.

There are 360 people working at the SMRU. The majority is from the local population Karen, Burmese, Thai. They know the population, they are known from the population, there is a trust that has been built over the years making the population and the SMRU the system. So that’s why its functions quite well.

Anything we do in terms of research, we publish and is used by everybody that wants to use it. And the treatment that we developed for malaria in the 1990s are now world standard, they are applied all over the world where there is malaria.

So it does have an impact elsewhere than just on the local population. It has a global impact.

Ending credits: Thanks to The Thai, Myanmar, and Karen people, The faculty of Tropical Medicine, Mahidol University, the University of Oxford, and The Wellcome Trust

MORU Website

SMRU

The Shoklo Malaria Research Unit (SMRU) was established in 1986 as a centre for epidemiological study into the treatment and prevention of resistant malaria among refugee camps on the Thai-Burma border. At the time, malaria was the most serious health problem facing the displaced population living along the border and the primary cause of death, representing over 45% of out-patient consultations.

Malaria at the Thai-Burma border

Researchers at SMRU continue to monitor, treat and control malaria, both within the camps and amongst the communities of Burmese migrant workers, who live outside the camps.