Community engagement for malaria elimination in the Greater Mekong Sub-region: a qualitative study among malaria researchers and policymakers

22 Feb 2022
Kaehler N, Adhikari B, Cheah PY, von Seidlein L, Day NPJ, Dondorp AM, Pell C.

Background: Community engagement has increasingly received attention in malaria research and programme interventions, particularly as countries aim for malaria elimination. Although community engagement strategies and activities are constantly developing, little is known about how those who implement research or programmes view community engagement. This article explores the perspectives of researchers and policy makers in the Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS) on community engagement for malaria control and elimination.

Methods: Semi-structured interviews were conducted among 17 policymakers and 15 senior researchers working in the field of malaria. All interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed in English. Transcribed data were analysed using deductive and inductive approaches in QSR NVivo. Themes and sub-themes were generated.

Results: Researchers and policymakers emphasized the importance of community engagement in promoting participation in malaria research and interventions. Building trust with the community was seen as crucial. Respondents emphasized involving authority/leadership structures and highlighted the need for intense and participatory engagement. Geographic remoteness, social, cultural, and linguistic diversity were identified as barriers to meaningful engagement. Local staff were described as an essential 'connect' between researchers or policymakers and prospective participants. Sharing information with community members, using various strategies including creative and participatory methods were highlighted.

Conclusions: Policymakers and researchers involved in malaria prevention and control in the GMS viewed community engagement as crucial for promoting participation in research or programmatic interventions. Given the difficulties of the 'last mile' to elimination, sustained investment in community engagement is needed in isolated areas of the GMS where malaria transmission continues. Involving community-based malaria workers is ever more critical to ensure the elimination efforts engage hard-to-reach populations in remote areas of GMS.