thpong district, Kompong Speu province – The area is lush and green, nestled picturesquely at the foot of a forested mountainous area, but malaria remains a very real threat for residents of five villages in remote Omlaing commune.
As part of The Cambodia Daily Mosquito Net Campaign, 2,140 mosquito nets were handed out on Saturday to 569 families in a bid to stem the rising number of malaria cases in the area.
Or Vanthen, director of the provincial health department, said the increase in cases was due to development, which is driving people into forested areas in search of resources.
“People are moving to mountainous areas more and more to work,” Dr Vanthen told a crowd of 300 villagers, some of whom were women nursing babies, who had gathered to receive the nets.
“To decrease the number [of cases], people have to be careful with their children’s health by putting them under a mosquito net and sending them to public health centers as soon as possible if they display symptoms.”
Dr Vanthen said 3,841 people in Kompong Speu contracted malaria in 2010, three of whom died.
“The three who died were living elsewhere. They came back home after they fell ill, but their treatment came too late,” he said.
The latest nationwide figures show that there were 15,028 cases of malaria and 92 deaths in the first five months of 2009, 20,272 cases with 40 deaths in the first five months of 2010 and 23,532 cases with 32 deaths so far this year. In 2009, there were a total 53,474 malaria cases, of which 233 people died, and 64,959 cases in 2010, which resulted in 151 deaths.
The number of cases has increased while the number of deaths has decreased relatively from 2009 to this year, according to Siv Sovannaroth, chief of the technical bureau for the National Center for Parasitology, Entomology and Malaria Control.
“Fewer patients died since they came to get treatment on time and we have good treatment,” he said, adding that as part of the government’s “Eliminate Malaria by 2025” plan, information was being disseminated among the media, and people were being trained to educate those in their area about seeking treatment on time.
Koi Mai, 27, said she was “happy to get these mosquito nets,” after receiving some for her family on Saturday. “I will use them so my family won’t get malaria.”
Tha Thorn, 36, smiled broadly as he was given five mosquito nets to protect all the members of his family. “We will each be able to use one so that the bugs stay away. I won’t be worried about malaria now,” he said.
Yan Pok, a 39-year-old widow, was happy to receive the nets but was worried that her children might get infected during the day while she is busy working in the fields.
“No one looks after them. They are left home alone, and this is a mountainous forestry area,” she said. “My kids just got malaria earlier this month. I don’t know how to protect them from malaria during the day. My farmland is in a malarial area. Almost everywhere in this area you can catch it.”
Prom Sang, a health activist in the district, said people from Omlaing commune had been confronted with malaria since the area is mountainous and they have to leave home to plant rice in the forest.
“They have to stay in the forest temporarily to watch their rice so that wild pigs won’t eat it,” he said, adding that the malaria high season from June to August collides with the rainy season, when many people are out farming.
Kevin Doyle, The Cambodia Daily’s editor-in-chief, said he was honored to be taking part in Saturday’s distribution ceremony, and to be able to see the mosquito nets being put to good use. He urged families to be vigilant in using the nets, particularly when it came to protecting children from malaria.
To date, The Cambodia Daily Mosquito Net Campaign has raised more than $156,800 in donations and 33,502 nets have been distributed across the country.