A 1999 National Malaria Center report may be significantly underestimating the number of malaria cases in Cambodia between 1998 and 1999, according to an official from the European Union’s Malaria Control Program.
While the report indicated a decrease in malaria cases in Cambodia’s 22 provinces, the true number of cases could be as much as five times higher than those stated, said Roberto Garcia, co-director of the EU’s malaria mission in Cambodia.
The National Malaria Center’s data is from government medical facilities and does not include Cambodians living in secluded areas, Garcia said. This, he explained, could account for the potentially misleading figures on malaria cases and deaths.
The National Malaria Center reports indicated deaths increased between 1998 and 1999, from 621 to 891 fatalities.
Garcia said he could not pinpoint the reason for the increase in deaths, adding that “one of the reasons could be the fake drugs we found last year.”
Officials from the local office of the World Health Organization discovered last October that fake malaria medicine was being sold in Phnom Penh drug stores. The drugs were placebos, or ineffective medication, and were sold in drug stores under the names of powerful malaria combatants Mefloquine and Artesunate.
If an effort to curb fake drugs, the EU and National Malaria Center are distributing a drug called Malarine, a combination of Mefloquine and Artesunate, to government-run medical facilities and private distributors.
The EU is distributing Malarine through private contractors in remote areas of Kampot, Battambang and Pursat provinces, while the National Malaria Center has sent the drug to a hospital in Kompong Speu province.
“The more we introduce the right treatment, and the more people follow this, the more they will become immune [to malaria],” Garcia said.
Improving awareness about malaria with Cambodians living in the provinces is one of the main concerns of the EU’s Malaria Control Program.
The EU’s quarterly meeting in Kampot earlier this month was attended by the Cambodian health directors of the 10 provinces assisted by the EU, and by representatives from the EU, the National Malaria Center and various government officials.
The EU wrote a report based on assessments given by the health directors at the July 10-11 quarterly meeting outlining several suggestions for the coming quarter. A concern mentioned in the EU report is the need to train provincial staffers on EU-donated computers.
Garcia said the EU program aims to train provincial Cambodian staffers so they can be self-sufficient when the program ends, likely in December 2001.
The next quarterly meeting of the EU’s program will be Oct 9-10 in Battambang town. The provinces the EU aids are Battambang, Kompong Speu, Kampot, Koh Kong, Kompong Cham, Kompong Thom, Kratie, Mondulkiri, Pursat and Ratanakkiri.