Community engagement for malaria elimination in contested areas of the Karen/Kayin State, Myanmar: A case study on the Malaria Elimination Task Force
König A., Kajeechiwa L., Thwin MM., Nosten S., Tun SW., Tangseefa D., Nosten F.
Background: This study evinces how the community engagement (CE) approach of the Malaria Elimination Task Force (METF) in the Karen/Kayin State of southeast Myanmar contributed to generating participation in program activities, such as early detection and treatment, malaria blood surveys and mass drug administration. Methods: We investigated the CE approach through ethnographic and key-informant unstructured interviews as well as focus group discussions and participant observation with program participants METF team members. Interview transcripts were analysed manually applying inductive content analysis. Results: In the context of the Thai-Myanmar border, CE had two main dimensions: The first was to enable the politically sensitive entry of the program into intervention areas, the second was to create mutual understanding among the METF team and people from the population and gain trust. For the first, the METF needed to acknowledge, get permission and communicate with a complex landscape of governing actors and leaders. For the second, creating mutual understanding meant to spend time learning about villagers’ lifeworlds and adapting engagement accordingly to create understanding of the program in resonance with these lifeworlds. Gaining trust meant to leverage leadership and build trust through informal “horizontal” engagement and acts of caring. Three key dimensions of villagers’ lifeworlds that appeared most crucial for staff to learn about were: villagers’ experience with the outside world; leadership and governing relationships to villagers: authority and distrust; and their perceived need for malaria care. Conclusions: Successful CE is highly context specific. CE success was based on the adaptability of the approach towards the complex political and socio-cultural contexts of the different areas of the Karen/Kayin State. Hence, CE is not a fixed approach or strategy defined before entering the setting, but constantly evolving based on the encounters with stakeholders and people of the population.