The number of Cambodians who died of malaria last year was exactly the same as in 2013, according to the latest figures from the National Malaria Center (CNM), which hopes to entirely eliminate fatal cases of the mosquito-borne parasite this year.
The government has set the goal of zero deaths from malaria in 2015 and not a single reported infection by 2025.
Last year, however, CNM again recorded 12 malaria deaths across the country. Though far lower than the 93 deaths the parasite caused in 2011, it exactly equals the number of fatal cases in 2013.
Siv Sovannaroth, who heads CNM’s technical bureau, said the absence of a decline in deaths in 2014 was not unexpected given that the number of infections recorded at government health centers last year—24,876 over the first 11 months—was higher than the number of cases in 2013.
“We are not very surprised…because the malaria [cases] increased a little bit. In 2013, there were 24,143,” he said.
The government was surprised by the rise in infections, however, said Mr. Sovannaroth, who placed the blame on two main factors: a cross-border outbreak and aging bed nets.
Health experts have credited the mass distribution of insecticide-treated mosquito nets for much of the impressive fall in deaths and cases Cambodia has witnessed in recent years.
But the last time the government handed out the nets en masse was in 2011, he said, meaning they hit their average three-year life span in 2014. He said the government would launch another mass distribution of new nets this year, hopefully starting next month.
Mr. Sovannaroth said Cambodia also suffered the knock-on effects of a recent malaria outbreak in neighboring Laos.
Although Cambodia and Thailand have set up malaria-screening centers along their shared border to catch migrant workers carrying malaria, Mr. Sovannaroth said many workers were still crossing both the Thai-Cambodia and Lao-Cambodia borders via unmonitored, illegal routes.
As such, he said that whether the government achieves its goal of zero malaria deaths this year was at least partly out of its hands.
“It depends how effective we are to distribute nets and the neighboring countries,” he said. “If they can’t control [malaria cases], then we have a problem.”
Cambodia is also battling the most lethal strain of malaria, as the disease mounts resistance to the best available drugs for fighting it, called Artemisinin-based Combination Therapies, or ACTs. Health workers confirmed the first worldwide cases of ACT resistance in 2007 along the Thai-Cambodia border and in all neighboring countries, plus Burma, since.
In a bid to keep it from spreading further, the World Health Organization launched a $400 million emergency response plan in 2013 and moved its regional hub office for fighting ACT resistance from Bangkok to Phnom Penh.