Malaria Center Works on Plan to Educate Ethnic Minorities

Lessons in health education can only be effective if teachers and students share a common language. In its mission to protect Cambodians against malaria, National Malaria Center staff traveled to Ratanakkiri province last week to lay the foundation for basic communication.

Ethnic Krung living in Rata­nakkiri practice dialects and traditions distinct from the majority of Khmer society. To better inform Cambodia’s ethnic minorities about malaria and other ailments, National Malaria Center staff first must determine how much they know and how to augment what they have.

But the task of gathering information in the midst of a cultural divide has proven more complicated than teaching the lessons themselves, National Malaria Center health education chief Dr Voukaent Thavrin said Wednes­day.

“We don’t know whether our terminology is too complicated or our ideas too foreign,” Voukaent Thavrin said. “So we have to see what kind of drawings or photos they respond to and what kind of words we can use.”

The National Malaria Center team conducted preliminary questionnaires of Krung people living in three hill tribe villages in O’Chum district, aiming not to test medical knowledge but to explore the Krungs’ understanding or words, concepts and ideas. They offered Krung villagers information in written, pictorial and symbolic form.

Even the process to create and analyze the preliminary questionnaires has been complicated. People adept in both the Khmer and Krung languages have been employed to translate the Khmer surveys into Krung.

Six data collectors from Inter­national Cooperation for Cam­bodia in Banlung currently are translating the results back into Khmer, to be processed and turned into a survey about mosquito bed net use, health technology and malaria’s symptoms and treatments.

Last week’s trip was the first in what will be a series of information-gathering missions to Rata­nakkiri. Malaria Center staff will return to the three survey sites in Svay commune, Kalay 2 commune and Laok commune following the elections to conduct more comprehensive polls.

The survey sites were chosen because all villages are situated no more than 5 km away from a health care center. Security and road accessibility also were deciding factors.

“We want to know what people do when they’re sick, so they at least have to be in walking distance of the health center,” Vou­kaent Thavrin said.

Once the language barrier is overcome, Voukaent Thavrin said she is most concerned about the rain.

A recent study of health beliefs and malaria practices in Ratana­k­kiri showed that villagers’ understanding of the disease is minimal.

The research, conducted by the National Malaria Center, noted that 45 percent of the participants did not know what caused malaria and only 10 percent reported that only mosquitoes lead to the disease. Many perceived convulsions, caused by high fever, as spiritual interference. And 67 percent said malaria could not be prevented.

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