Much progress has been made in the reduction of malaria worldwide – but reaching elimination has proven very challenging. One of the reasons for this is the human factor. There are many reasons related to human behaviour for why completely eradicating the parasite is difficult. “Some people infected with malaria don’t think they are sick, prefer not to take biomedical treatment or do not complete their medication as soon as they feel better. Others think they have better ways of curing themselves through herbal or spiritual treatments,” said ITM’s medical anthropologist Dr. Sarah O’Neill.
Malaria elimination strategies become even more difficult for marginalised or mobile populations such as migrating cattle herders in West Africa or slash and burn farmers in Cambodia who spend extended periods of time working and sleeping in the forest during the rainy season. For many people seasonal migration for farming or herding is part of their livelihood during which their access to health centres and malaria treatment is restricted. People displaced by war and refugees are also vulnerable to malaria and fall through the net of elimination strategies.
At ITM, anthropologists are involved in most research projects in developing countries. “We need a social science approach to understand how human behaviour affects malaria elimination strategies. We need to calculate the human factor in order to succeed,” said O’Neill.
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