Debate Rages Over Use of Natural Medicine to Fight Malaria

January 15, 2004
By Kate Woodsome
The Cambodia Daily

Kratie town - Bai Samy, 52, doesn't know where her village health center is and stays at home when she is sick. Kuth Sokain, 25, knows where two village malaria volunteers live, but she does not seek their advice because they rarely make the rounds.

These women and many other Kratie province residents just like them were the focus of debate in this quiet town on Wednesday.

At odds over the applicability of national health policies to the rural poor, government health officials tangled with a local NGO over the benefits of traditional medicine versus modern medicine in fighting malaria.

The Khmer Association for Development of Countryside Cambodia, a local NGO promoting natural medicine, raised concerns earlier this month about the disconnect between Health Ministry policies and people's ability to follow them.
The group promotes using plants, roots and herbs as health remedies to those without the money to treat malaria and other illnesses.

But the deputy director of the National Malaria Center, who left his Phnom Penh office to investigate the NGO, said the natural malaria treatments must stop.

"They can promote traditional medicine if it is effective," said Dr Nong Sao Kry after nearly an hour of discussion with association officials. "But if it is not effective, they are promoting people to die."

Dr Cheam Saem, director of Kratie's provincial health department, said he was disturbed by the association's claims that health care strategies are not working in Kratie.

"Two village malaria volunteers live in each village near the patients' houses," he said. "If there is a problem, the volunteer takes the patient by moto to a health center. The health center pays for the transportation from our provincial health budget."
But Ngoun Sophany, the association's director, scoffed and said the health department's approach is only as good as the people who execute it.

"The person that has money can go to the hospital, but the person with no money cannot go to the hospital," she said.
Nong Sao Kry decided the association could promote natural remedies for minor ailments like diarrhea, but said they must stop offering alternative malaria treatments.

Ngoun Sophany said she will continue to promote traditional medicine, while encouraging trips to the health center.
Some Chrova commune residents, however, said the truth lies beyond the reasoning of both the NGO and the provincial health department.

"I don't know who there is to help me here," Bai Samy said. "I can't go to the doctor because they charge 20,000 riel (about $5) for an injection. And I don't use traditional medicine because I have a cough."