Health Officials To Monitor Malaria With Mapping Software

The National Malaria Center will be training provincial health officials to use digital maps to fight the disease.

Tol Bunkea, head of the center’s Ep­idemiology Department told par­ticipants at a malaria workshop in Phnom Penh on Wednesday that provincial health staff will learn to use the Health Mapper software de­veloped by the World Health Org­an­ization.

They will then be able to analyze the information collected with that program to gage the ma­laria situation in their re­gions, he said.

So far, computerized public-health mapping has helped forecast the spread of the West Nile virus throughout the world, and shown how global warming would influence the spread of communicable diseases. Cambodia now hopes the mapping software will enable health staff to better monitor the disease in order to take action where and when it is needed.

Designed to present health data in a geographic format, the Health Mapper will provide health staff with a ready-made database containing information such as boundary maps, environmental factors, and population estimates to show the geographic distribution of ma­laria and the natural range for the malaria-carrying mosquitoes.

The software was done so that even people with limited computer knowledge will be comfortable using it. However, Tol Bunkea said, provincial health staff will need computer training in order to make the program as effective as possible.

More computers and Global Po­si­tioning System devices to generate the maps will be needed as well, he said.

“There are some constraints, main­ly technical ones, to realizing this objective “ said Philippe Gu­yant, malaria program manager for the NGO Partners for De­vel­op­ment, which organized the workshop on Wednesday. “But hopefully in the future, the technical constraints should be overcome.”

Digital mapping using GPS will make it possible to identify under-served geographical areas, investigate disease outbreaks, and help avoid duplication of public-health work and double-funding, health officials said. The Health Mapper was one of the topics discussed at the annual, three-day malaria workshop on Wednesday.

Kiv Sokha, malaria program coordinator for the NGO Partners for De­velopment, stressed that provincial health authorities needed anti-malarial medicine and mosquito nets without delay, adding that participants at a previous workshop on community-health action had spoken of an acute shortage of medicine and bednets.

According to the National Ma­laria Center’s five-year strategic plan, the fight against malaria continues to be one of the government’s major health priorities, along with lowering rates of HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, even though the number of deaths due to malaria has decreas­ed by about 60 percent since 1999.

Malaria currently is the third most common disease among out­patients at the country’s hospitals and health centers and the second most common cause of mortality in the country’s hospitals.

About 400 people die each year from the disease, Malaria Center’s statistics indicate.

The most affected are ethnic mi­n­or­ities, temporary migrants, settlers in forested areas, plantation work­ers and others who live in the country’s wooded, hilly areas, including the forest fringe along the borders of Thailand, Laos and Vietnam.

The most effective way to control the disease remains  prevention, said health officials at the workshop. This includes having people use insecticide-treated bednets to protect themselves at night; and protecting themselves with mosquito repellents and proper clothing during the day. In addition, stagnant-water buildups that are mosquito breeding grounds should be avoided.

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