Background: Although mobile and migrant populations are considered an important group in malaria elimination settings, there is currently a lack of understanding about foreign migrant workers in the Lao People's Democratic Republic (Lao PDR). The present study aimed to document the migration characteristics, positive rate of malaria infection, and preventive and treatment-seeking behavior for malaria among foreign migrant workers in the malaria-endemic districts of Savannakhet province, Lao PDR.
Methods: A community-based survey was undertaken in four districts of Savannakhet province between February and June, 2015. Questionnaire-based interviews and blood examinations, including rapid diagnostic tests and PCR assays, were conducted with 391 migrant workers who were registered at local police departments.
Results: Most of the study participants were men (75.7%) and Vietnamese (92.6%). The median age (interquartile range) was 31 (25 to 41) years old. Most common occupation was factory worker (47.6%), followed by trader/shopkeeper (21.5%) and plantation worker/farmer (16.4%). The median length of stay (interquartile range) in the districts was 405 (183 to 1207) days. The majority of the participants (85.9%) had not worked in a province other than the study province, nor had the majority (92.6%) worked in a foreign country other than the Lao PDR. Although most of the participants (62.7%) reportedly used a bed net daily, these nets were mostly conventional untreated ones. No one tested positive for malaria. However, 10.0% of the participants reported a malaria-like illness episode that had occurred in the Lao PDR. The most common measure taken for the episode was to visit a hospital/health center in the Lao PDR, followed by conducting self-medication alone. Forty-one participants reported an experience of working in the forest while living in the Lao PDR.
Conclusions: Foreign migrant workers who are registered at local police departments are unlikely to play a major role in maintaining local transmissions and spreading drug-resistant malaria in the study province. However, some of them were involved in forest-related activities, suggesting that these workers are potentially at risk of malaria. The Lao National Malaria Control Program should educate foreign migrant workers about the risk of malaria when living in Lao PDR.
Keywords: Help-seeking behavior; International migration; Labor migration; Laos; Malaria; Risk factor; Vietnam.