Effects of Drought May Reverse Decline in Malaria Cases

October 31, 2002
By Van Roeun and Saing Soenthrith 
The Cambodia Daily

Statistics from the National Malaria Center show that the number of malaria cases has dropped by a third so far this year.
Between Jan 1 and Sept 30 a total of 49,324 cases were reported, compared to 73,149 cases during the same period last year.

The number of fatal cases also decreased by a third, from 321 deaths during the first nine months of 2001, to 211 this year, said Dr Duong Socheat, director of the malaria center.

He attributed the decline to a combination of factors from training and public education campaigns, to the distribution of bednets, and the use of the dipstick test, which is fast and easy to use.

Prepackaged medicine made available both to public and private medical facilities has also helped, he said.

However, Nhim Vanda, first vice president of the National Committee for Disaster Management, fears that the drought, which is forcing some villagers to venture into the jungle in search of food, will lead to more malaria cases in the near future.

On Oct 27, the committee distributed 25 tons of rice to about 1,000 families in Trapeang Chou commune, in Kompong Speu province's Oral district, which, in particular, has been affected by the drought and left people with no rice crops, he said.
"We have nothing to eat," said Mao Em of Trapeang Chou commune. Villagers are going to the mountains in remote areas of the district looking for white cassava to replace rice, she said. This means that more people than usual are going into the jungle where malaria-carrying mosquitoes abound, Nhim Vanda said.

So far, the number of malaria patients at the Oral district health center has been slightly less than last year, said Deputy Director Ngeth Thel.

The problem is that some communes are far from the district's health center, which services a population of about 19,000 people, said Chak Bunthol, pharmaceutical officer for the center. By the time people in this poor district manage to bring their sick by oxcart, malaria patients often have become severe cases, he said.

The center has no blood or equipment for blood transfusions, no oxygen tank and no vehicle to transport these patients to the provincial hospital, Chak Bunthol said.

The center will contact the hospital to get an ambulance, but it is not always available, he said.
In addition, people who bring patients to the center have no money to stay elsewhere, and end up taking refuge at the center until patients have recovered, Ngeth Thel said. As a result, about 100 people sleep at the center each month, he said.
The medical staff would like to visit remote areas and catch malaria cases before they worsen, but has no budget or transportation to do so, Ngeth Thel said. (Additional reporting by Michelle Vachon)