Malaria Center’s Budget Constraints Lead to Sketchy Statistics

Government health officials estimate that at least 67 Cambodians died from malaria between Jan­uary and the end of May.

During the same period last year, 147 fatal cases were reported nationwide. But since this year’s number does not include all provinces, those figures cannot really be compared, National Malaria Center Director Duong Socheat said.

By the end of April, officials recorded nearly 2,700 cases of malaria in Kompong Cham prov­ince, compared to 6,412 cases for the whole of 2002. Pursat prov­ince had about 2,000 cases compared to 5,622 for 2002, Duong Socheat said.

Malaria has taken an especially harsh toll since January in forested areas of Kompong Speu prov­ince’s Oral district and Koh Kong province’s Kompong Seila district, according to government statistics.

The two districts probably are not the only ones in which malaria cases abound, but since this year’s figures are more based on observation and guesswork than hard facts, it is difficult to assess the situation nationwide, he said. Without the budget to tour villages and visit remote areas, reports sent by provincial authorities are sketchy at best, Duong Socheat said.

Malaria hits poor people in remote areas the hardest. This is especially true of people who work in forested areas where the malaria-carrying mosquitoes are active, Duong Socheat said.

With no vaccine and no way to eradicate the malaria-carrying mosquito population, the fight against the disease can never stop.

Control measures involve bed net distribution in distant regions, and education and health-volunteers programs in villages with little or no access to health centers.

“We are sending bed nets to provinces, but health authorities tell us they can’t tour the countryside to distribute them for lack of money,” Duong Socheat said. Many malaria-control activities are on hold for the same reason.

Halfway through the rainy season, the center is still waiting for funds earmarked for malaria. The first chunk of the $2.2 million coming from the World Bank should arrive within two to three weeks, said Eng Huot, director-general for health at the Ministry of Health. The government has already met the bank’s requirements for this five-year program, and has deposited matching funds as requested, he said.

As for dengue fever, the Nation­al Malaria Center has obtained an advance of $130,000 from the World Health Organi­zation on a future World Bank grant to distribute 80 tons of Abate in 15 prov­inces, Duong Socheat said. This larvicide prevents mosquitoes that transmit dengue from multiplying in water.

An outbreak of dengue—a viral disease for which the only remedy is to treat the fever when it occurs—is expected this year.

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