Kampot Villagers Risk Malaria Collecting Food in Forest

 

By Ethan Plaut

December 8, 2005

 

Kampot district, Kampot province - East of Kampot’s sleepy provincial capital, more than an hour away by boat on the Stung Keo river, villages are nestled at the edge of the forest where malarial mosquitoes strike at dusk.

 

But children dying of malaria isn’t the norm in Stung Keo commune’s Anlong Meak Prang village. In fact, there have been no recent deaths from malaria, despite many people being infected repeatedly.

 

Poverty drives the men to risk infection by venturing into the forest for days at a time, and when they become infected, their families’ and their village’s poverty intensifies.

 

Anlong Meak Prang villagers grow rice and fruit trees and raise livestock. But to supplement their subsistence farming, many of the men and boys cut bamboo and small trees and collect other products from the forest.

 

People in the village itself are vulnerable to malaria, but the men who go in groups to spend days and nights in the forest unprotected from the mosquitoes are most at risk.

 

Villagers said the cost of treatment at clinics far from the village ranged in cost from $1.25 to $7.50, but that is only a small part of malaria’s economic burden.

“The transportation costs more than the treatment,” said 22-year-old Run Sokchan, who had traveled to a clinic the previous week, suffering from the signature headache and hot-and-cold fever of malaria.

 

When a family’s provider falls ill, his wages are lost. A family member often accompanies the sick to get treatment, so their supplemental income disappears too.

That few thousand riel per day multiplied by the length of the illness and added to the costs of treatment and transportation adds up to more than villagers can afford, especially when it happens again and again.

 

The best preventative measure available for this cycle of poverty, risk and illness is perhaps also the simplest: Mosquito nets.

 

“I am happy to get these mosquito nets because I can protect my family from mosquito bites and malaria,” 32-year-old Chan Voeun said during a net distribution on Monday. He added that his wife and some of their five children had repeatedly fallen ill with malaria. “If there are not enough mosquito nets, I have to go into the forest without one and leave them to protect my wife and children,” he said.

 

Anlong Meak Prang village’s 102 families received 250 nets that day, and National Malaria Center staff had 900 more nets for surrounding villages, made possible by $4,000 in donations collected by the Cambodia Daily Mosquito Net Campaign.

 

But the nets are only enough to protect people sleeping at home in the village, and are not designed for use with hammocks in the forest.

 

Duong Socheat, Director of the National Malaria Center, said he is negotiating with Population Services International to produce and distribute hammock nets for forest workers.

 

The new nets will be offered at a subsidized price on the market and included in free distributions like the one that is now safeguarding the villagers of Anlong Meak Prang.