siem reap town – The European Commission’s five-year initiative for malaria control ended on Monday with Aldo Dell’Ariccia, the EC charge d’affaires, turning the project over to Health Minister Hong Sun Huot in Siem Reap. The ceremony took place at the closing of the seventh quarterly workshop of health officials from the country’s 16 malaria-prone provinces.
“Many problems will remain for Cambodia’s malaria control program in the future, but this project leaves its house in good order,” said Stefan Hoyer, coordinator for infectious disease control for the World Health Organization.
In those five years, Cambodia has managed to become a world leader in the control of malaria, Dell’Ariccia said.
This is due to a health ministry determined to act quickly after decisions had been made, and provincial health staff who put them in place, he said.
The malaria program has been successful in two ways: The number of cases has gone down, and data collection throughout the country has improved, Dell’Ariccia said. “So we now have a real picture of the situation, and an improvement,” he said.
During those five years, the number of malaria cases dropped nearly 50 percent, from 170,000 in 1997 to about 90,000 this year, said Roberto Garcia, co-director of the EC program.
The number of deaths also dropped, going from 865 in 1997 to 427 last year.
This year has seen a continued decrease, with 230 reported deaths from January to September, Hoyer said.
The improvements came because “major players such as the National Malaria Center, the EC project, the World Health Organization and other international organizations decided to set aside any other consideration and work together to find a solution for malaria control in the country,” Garcia said.
The EC’s project accomplishments went beyond malaria control, said Mam Bun Heng, secretary of state for the Ministry of Health, who gave the opening speech at the workshop on Friday.
Its activities met two of the Cambodian government’s most crucial goals, which were to reduce poverty and decentralize services, he said.
“Health staff members who were sent abroad for training have helped strengthen the country’s health care system as a whole,” Mam Bun Heng said. In addition, the project piloted a village volunteer program, which enabled health care to reach people in remote areas, he said.
The Ministry of Health’s goal is to reduce malaria cases in the population from 11 percent to 8 percent, and the death toll from 10 percent to 7 percent by 2007, Hong Sun Huot said. In addition to the money coming from the government budget, this will take international funding to accomplish, he said.
But in terms of running the program, thanks to the training and support provided by the EC over the last five years, Cambodia is in a position to fully take it over, Hong Sun Huot said. “It’s time [for Cambodia] to do it alone,” he said.
The Cambodian government has submitted funding proposals to a number of organizations and should hear in the coming weeks whether they have been approved, said Seshu Babu, World Bank malaria-control adviser to the Ministry of Health.
This month, the World Bank will be making a decision on Cambodia’s $2.2 million grant request for five years, he said. The UK Department for International Development’s decision on a request for $1.2 million over five years is expected in February, Seshu Babu said.
He said the government should receive a response in January for a proposed $9.9 million, five-year grant submitted to the Global Fund—a donor-supported fund to fight HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. In the meantime, WHO will assume funding of malaria programs, Hoyer said.
The EC project was part of the EC five-year malaria program in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, which also ends this month. During the EC’s International Symposium on Malaria Control in the Mekong Region, which officially opened on Monday, Hong Sun Huot said he intends to ask his counterparts from Laos and Vietnam to continue the cooperation begun during the program.