kratie town – In town to celebrate the opening of Kratie’s new HIV/AIDS counseling center, top government officials on Wednesday morning lauded local health staff and NGOs for their efforts to temper malaria.
Delegations from Health Ministry programs, the World Health Organization, the UN Children’s Fund and Partners for Development later distributed 1,300 insecticide-treated bed nets to villagers to mark the end of Kratie’s bed net campaign for the year.
Dr Mam Bun Heng, Health Ministry secretary of state, mischievously suggested that campaigns to fight HIV/AIDS and malaria could be combined. Condoms, he said, should accompany bed net distributions.
“If you use a condom in the bed net, you can prevent everything—malaria, HIV/AIDS,” he said. “It’s only a little bit dark, but if you are in the net, people won’t see you.”
Grinning, Mam Bun Heng assured the audience that government officials swear by this doubly preventative routine.
Kratie was one of the first provinces to fall into Khmer Rouge hands in 1970, suffering social and economic duress five years before the rest of the country had even heard of Pol Pot. The effect on Kratie’s health was both mental and physical, provincial Governor Loy Sophat said.
“There was no one left to take care of the people. People were forced to do things, and their mental health changed,” he said. With no hospital, little medicine, no health staff and no one to train, provincial health care reached ground zero.
Despite the early turmoil, Kratie has recovered at about the same rate as the rest of the nation, Lay Sophat said. In the last four years, the NGO-supported development of health centers and referral hospitals has helped bring down rates of malaria, tuberculosis and diarrhea, Loy Sophat said.
Partners for Development, a health NGO working with provincial health centers and staff, has helped make that change. PFD has held a presence in Kratie since 1994, although under a different name. Nearly 10 years ago, the organization was called Action Internationale Contra la Faim-USA and worked to improve sanitation throughout the province.
But in 1996, provincial health staff suggested a name change, due to their distaste with the organization’s US-affiliation. US bombing campaigns had devastated the region, adding stigma to all-things US-related.
“They saw the US as a negative and didn’t want anything to do with it,” said Dr Khieu Sokha, the provincial health department’s former deputy director and PFD’s current provincial malaria coordinator. Working with the local government, Action Internationale became Partners for Development.
In 1997, PFD spearheaded a bed net program to protect families from malaria in two Snuol district villages. By 2000, PFD had covered 200 of the province’s 250 villages with insecticide-treated bed nets. The campaign was on hiatus until this year and will continue in 2004.