Program Advertises Cost-Effectiveness of Quality Medicine


May 15 2003

By Kate Woodsome

The Cambodia Dialy


Ineffective medicine and treatment in Cambodia's loosely regulated private health care sector are draining the financial reserves of many malaria patients, a problem health officials are combating by advertising the difference between cost and cost effectiveness.


Trucks laden with prepackaged anti-malaria drugs and rapid diagnostic tests have been pulling up to private health clinics across the country for a year as part of social marketing campaign to convince Cambodian that spending more on quality medicine will cost less over time, said the National Malaria Center's Dr. Ris Seyha.


"If you're not cured [by fake anti-malaria drugs], you have to go to second treatment, which means you have to pay more or even go to the hospital," said Dr. Reiko Tsuyuoka, a World Health Organization malaria-control officer.


Poster, television spots and live presentation also have been designed by the European Commission and implemented by the National Malaria Center, WHO and Population Services International to persuade private health clinics to buy quality-assured pharmaceuticals rather than fake anti-malaria drugs, Tsuyuoka said.


"The reason we introduced the strategy in the private sector is because many malaria patients about 60 percents receive their first care in the private sector," Ris Seyha said.


For most Cambodians, anti-malaria drugs are not cheap, said National Malaria Center Director Dr. Duong Socheat. Many patients consequently invest in less expensive drugs, the quality of which is not assured, or they don't get any treatment at all.


The cost of a single malaria treatment is 3,000 riel (about $0.75), but if a patient's health doesn't improve due to an unfinished drug regime or low-quality pharmaceuticals, they could end up spending as much as 13,000 riel (about $3.29), Tsuyuoka said.


A 2002 survey conducted by the WHO and the National Malaria Center showed that malaria treatments can cost as much as $138, Tsuyuoka said.


It's hard to convince people that cost effectiveness is better than low cost, " Ris Seyha said.


But health officials are making gains. Ris Seyha said that most people are willing to invest in slightly more expensive anti-malaria treatments when they realize the importance of drug quality.


Dominique Eluere, director of the drug distributor Comptoir Medical Du Cambodge, said that sales of anti-malaria drugs have increased significantly since the campaign began last year.


Plans to expand the social marketing campaign from private clinics to the mass public have been put on hold, Ris Seyha said. Further advertising and public awareness programs would be developed with money from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which has not arrived in Cambodia as scheduled.