In addition to balancing homework with chores and friends, popular schoolchildren may increasingly bear the responsibility of teaching mom and dad about malaria.
Elementary school students considered popular among their friends should be the chosen disciples to spread the word on malaria prevention and care, health officials instructed teachers at a December training workshop in Ratanak Mondol district, Battambang province.
“We suggested the school directors and school health committees select schoolchildren [according to] who is the best one and popular in class,” said an excerpt from the National Malaria Center 2002 progress report. Results of the training indicated that “all model school children understand well their role.”
Increased efforts to educate Cambodians about malaria should focus heavily on schoolchildren, as they are young and susceptible to new ideas, National Malaria Center Health Education Chief Dr Voukaent Thavrin said Wednesday.
“Children are a strong power because they bring their lessons home to the family,” she said. “They are very young and believe what we say.”
In April, the National Malaria Center conducted a survey of students enrolled in grades three through six in Battambang, Banteay Meanchey, Svay Rieng and Kompong Cham provinces to identify what they know about malaria, Voukaent Thavrin said.
The center has never conducted a comprehensive malaria survey of schoolchildren but expects the results, due for release next week, should be as helpful as data collected on hygiene practices, she said. These survey results enabled the center to identify weak areas of hygiene awareness and design a program to teach children the best ways to keep clean and healthy.
“They can understand well about how to have good hygiene and they bring that home to the family,” Voukaent Thavrin said. “The parents will see this and accept the child’s activity.”
School-based educational campaigns have been limited by funding shortages, but small-scale attempts to disseminate pamphlets, videos and mosquito bed nets have reached some schools, Voukaent Thavrin said.
But educational campaigns are only as effective as communication lines are strong, she said. Cultural and language barriers between ethnic minority children and their ethnic Khmer teachers can prevent students from understanding or believing in their health lessons.
Many ethnic minorities living in the northeastern provinces believe that angry spirits, not mosquitoes, carry sickness to a village, Voukaent Thavrin said.
“We tell them, ‘It’s OK, you can believe in the spirits. But don’t forget to bring your bed net to the forest or go to the doctor when you’re sick,’” she said.
A more aggressive campaign will begin once the center receives money from the Global Fund. But money will not be released until at least mid-August, as a committee of donors and agencies in Cambodia has not yet solidified its spending plan.