svay leu district, Siem Reap province – There are two common killers hiding in the jungles here: land mines and malaria.
The first is being dealt with by Halo Trust, which came to the village last month to start clearing mines laced through the pastures and forests. But Khna Kroa villagers say the malaria only seems to be getting worse. “We have never had fevers like this year,” said Loep Lang, 31. “Everyone here gets fevers.”
The problem is compounded by poverty, which keeps mosquito nets for prevention and medicine for treatment out of reach for many villagers.
“Most of the people cannot afford mosquito nets,” Loep Lang said. “We have no clinic. When we get sick, we have to go to Siem Reap town.”
The trip and treatment can be expensive and people often have to borrow money from friends and relatives. Paying for health care is a leading cause of poverty and landlessness in Cambodia, and Loep Lang’s case is typical.
His complexion still pale, he had just returned from being hospitalized for four days in Siem Reap town. He had malaria four years ago and recovered. “But in May it relapsed,” he said.
The taxi ride, the hospitalization and the medicine cost him 250,000 riel (about $62), more than half of which he borrowed from relatives.
“I hope to get some money to pay them back by finding resin and vines to sell at the market,” he said.
Children who contract malaria in the village can be treated for free at the Kanta Bopha children’s hospital in Siem Reap.
“But it’s hard for the older people to get treatment,” Loep Lang said. “Sometimes they have to stay at home because they cannot afford the trip to Siem Reap town.”
The Halo demining trucks sometimes take sick villagers into town. Others are left with no choice but to pay for a taxi.
For the first time last week, doctors came to the villagers of Khna Kroa. Villagers lined up as Medicins Sans Frontiers tested them for malaria. At least ten tested positive, and were given medicine.
But the problems in these remote areas are many, and the resources few. Down the road in Kantuot village, there had been no visit from MSF. Old villagers asked pleadingly for medicine. Their family members, they said, were sick with fever.