Foreign Doctors Give Feedback on Siem Reap Malaria Efforts

December 9, 2004
By Erik Wasson

Health professionals from eight Asean countries, Nepal and North Korea gathered at the National Malaria Center in Phnom Penh on Wednesday for the fifth Thailand and Cambodia-sponsored Malaria Field Operations Program.

The 18 doctors and administrators had completed field training in data collection and epidemic control in Siem Reap province, where the conference will close Saturday.

The program began with seminars in Bangkok and tours of malaria endemic Thai villages before heading to northwestern Cambodia. In Phnom Penh on Wednesday, participants shared their impressions of the malaria problem in Cambodia and the government's efforts to combat it.

Dr Amir Mirullah from Malaysia said he will remember most the three days spent at a site in Svay Leu district in Siem Reap province. Just getting to the 22 villages in which malaria is endemic was a challenge. "The road conditions are very poor and the villages are nearly inaccessible to health centers," he said.

The prevalence of the disease was greater that what he was used to in Malaysia.

"I was surprised by the conditions in Cambodia," he said. "It is much worse, except for a few areas in my country."

But Mirullah praised the government's efforts. "The strong point is the outright cooperation between the government and NGOs like Medecins Sans Frontiers," he said. "I would say 60 percent of cases were discovered by NGOs charged with active case detection."

In Svay Leu, the program conducted focus groups consisting of six males and six females. "Among the males there was some knowledge of malaria," said Mirullah, but among the females "not so much."

He said the women participants said that four to five days a month they must tend to rice fields near the forest. "There they sleep in huts without protection."
Giri Raj Subedi, a public health worker from western Nepal, also expressed shock and dismay at the level of malaria education in the provinces. "Health education needs to seriously [be] improved in this country," Subedi said.

"It is one thing to hand out bed nets, but people must understand how to use them.

The villagers living near the forest do not have perfect knowledge of how to use them. When they are hot at night they throw them off. They go regularly to the forest and sleep outside without personal protection."

Dr Tho Sochantha, field director at the National Malaria Center, welcomed the exchange of ideas.

"Other countries have different strategies," he said. "We learn from communicating our experiences."

He added that by training foreign professionals, the center gains experience for training Cambodian doctors on eliminating one of the world's worst killers.