Pilot Project Finds Women Neglected by Malaria Programs

January 2, 2002
By Michelle Vachon
The Cambodia Daily

A pilot project conducted in 2002 shows that while Cambodian malaria programs tried to reach the people most at risk of malaria, they may have neglected women.

The material used in public information campaigns is short of data on pregnant women, even though they could lose their babies if not treated in the early stages of the disease, said Ing Kantha Phavi, secretary of state for the Ministry of Women's and Veterans' Affairs.

At the beginning of 2002, her ministry, in cooperation with the European Commission Malaria Control Project and the National Malaria Center, conducted a six-month project in Kompong Speu province, she said. One of its goals was to check whether the education material on malaria succeeded in carrying the message to women. A total of 20 villages in the malaria-prone districts of Oral and Phnom Sruch were selected for the study. In each village, one woman volunteer was trained to pass on information on the cause, preventive measures and treatment of the disease.

An analysis of the information material revealed that most illustrations in posters and other publications feature people, and especially men, working in the forest, Ing Kantha Phavi said. Since forest workers are especially exposed to malaria-carrying mosquitoes, programs in Cambodia have targeted these workers, urging them to sleep under hammock nets impregnated with insecticide.

The material makes few mentions of pregnant women who must receive a particular combination-drug therapy when they have the disease, Ing Kantha Phavi said. As a result, people hardly remembered the danger the disease represents in cases of pregnancy, she said. In addition, the project showed that pregnant women had little access to health care because, among other reasons, they did not have the means to get to health centers and had little say in the decision of whether or not to make the trip.

The project also showed that women were more at ease dealing with women health volunteers, Ing Kantha Phavi said.
Ing Kantha Phavi presented findings of the pilot project on Dec 12, during the Malaria Mekong Symposium in Siem Reap. The conference attended by malaria experts and health officials from 24 countries marked the end of the five-year EC Malaria Control Program in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam on Dec 31.

The Ministry of Women's and Veterans' Affairs has already discussed results of the study with the National Malaria Center, and will soon hold further meetings on the subject, said Ing Kantha Phavi.

The malaria center intends to make it a priority to enroll more women in its health volunteer program, Director Duong Socheat said. In addition, the center wants to involve the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport and the Ministry of Rural  Development so that adjustments can be made in programs and material for Khmer-speaking as well as for minority people, Duong Socheat said. A study of hill tribes of Ratanakkiri province in 2002 also revealed that they were unaware of the dangers of malaria during pregnancy.

The Ministry of Women's and Veterans' Affairs hopes to implement changes in five provinces as part of a larger health and economic development program, Ing Kantha Phavi said.