I was trekking through the Burmese jungles in early 2015, primarily there to help create a series of videos for a field hospital in a conflict area in Karen state, eastern Burma/Myanmar. My group and I were pushing through the winding trails for a while — we had just carried a pregnant woman who was in labor, we thought was going to die (she didn’t) and handed her off to someone who could get her across the border and into more capable medical hands. Our guides took us to a small cluster of huts, nestled next to some banana trees with large clusters of ripe bananas hanging nearby.
To our surprise, a white man was already sitting in the hut and none of us recognized him. I had been in the jungle for about a month, and either knew all the white people around or had at least known that they were coming and who they were. This guy was a complete stranger to all of us, even some of the Karen we were with.
It turns out he was there to research malaria and the mosquitoes that spread it. The doctor I was with started talking to him, and as I listened I realized that he was there because there was a world of difference on one side of the border compared to the other. You could go from the civilization of say, China or Thailand, cross the border only a few miles, and have drastically different risks and fatality rates of malaria. The only way for him to get accurate information was to cross the border himself.
It struck me then how significantly malaria can impact a group of people in rural places like the jungles of Burma — access to simple preventative medicine and measures can make such a huge difference, but in places that don’t have that kind of access, the effects can be devastating.