No Village too Remote to Hear Message of Good Health

April 27, 2004
By Corinne Purtill

Samroung village, Svay Chek district, Banteay Meanchey province - Under the corrugated metal roof of this one-room village schoolhouse, Mam Bun Heng, secretary of state for the Ministry of Health, posed a question to about 150 villagers seated on the floor May 18: What can you use to prevent malaria?

On the table was a stack of new, insecticide-treated bed nets, for which Mam Bun Heng, National Malaria Center staff, health officials from Phnom Penh and this Cambodia Daily reporter had taken a spine-rattling ride over crater-pocked roads to deliver to villagers here.

At the not-so-subtle urging of her friends, a girl shyly stood and offered her answer.

“A mosquito net?”

A solid hour and a half from Serei Sisophon town—on a dry day, when the road is good—not much gets out to Samroung, a village of 97 households with what Banteay Meanchey health department Director Dr Chhum Vannarith termed a “medium-high” prevalence of malaria, compared to other districts in the province.

Despite its limited access, health education has reached Samroung.

Mam Bun Heng asked what causes HIV, and a small boy stood up and proudly announced, “Sex.” Asked what can prevent HIV, an even smaller boy solemnly bowed to the speaker and said, “a condom.”

They nodded attentively when World Health Organization Country Representative Jim Tulloch reiterated the “Three Protections”: A helmet when you ride your motorbike, a condom when you have sex and a bed net while you sleep.

Far too often, I have thought of things like mosquito nets and health education as merely the topics of conferences and meetings held far away from places like Svay Chek district. Rare is the chance to witness them changing—let alone saving—people’s lives.

But at Samroung’s school, while handing nets to everyone from soldiers to young women nursing babies, it started to make a bit more sense—actually, a humbling amount of sense—as to why things like the Mosquito Net Campaign are important.