sen monorom, Mondolkiri – Healthcare programs in this malaria-wracked region may suffer a setback this year as Medicins du Monde, the French NGO, has announced plans to close its office after a 10-year presence due to budget constraints.
The mission has fought malaria—still the top killer in this remote province—with impregnated bed nets, health education campaigns and a system of clinics and health posts spread throughout the province.
Malaria infection rates have plummeted in recent years, officials said.
The malaria rate dropped by 40 percent in the past three years among patients checking in to the main hospital in Sen Monorom, according to Medicins du Monde medical coordinator Philippe Guyant. There were 3,328 malaria cases at the hospital in 1999 compared to just 1,997 in 2001, the agency reported.
Key to the battle has been the distribution of some 25,000 mosquito nets impregnated with chemicals.
The MDM staff have distributed nets in all of the province’s villages at least once since 1997.
Guyant said the nets have slowed the infection rate, but are often overvalued by healthcare workers and should be viewed as one piece of a larger strategy.
“Impregnated mosquito nets are one tool, but will not stop the problem entirely,” he said.
The organization hopes to find another health-related NGO to take over its work once it leaves Mondolkiri. So far no commitments have been made, Guyant said. The decision to leave was made by MDM’s directors in Paris, he added.
Dr Stefan Hoyer, the World Health Organization’s coordinator for infectious diseases, said he hoped another agency would come in to take over MDM’s work.
“It’s a big problem that Medicins du Monde is leaving the province because the province has benefited from their work. In particular, the provincial health department has been working very closely with them,” he said.
Hoyer said funds may soon be available to assist health care efforts in Mondolkiri: He plans to submit an application Sept 27 to the Global Fund for the Fight of AIDS, TB and Malaria, with special provisions for funding remote areas like Mondolkiri and Ratanakkiri.
Hoyer said that, generally speaking, children in remote villages can be expected to have a 50 to 60 percent malaria infection rate at any time of the year before intervention efforts like those practiced by Medicins du Monde begin. The infection rate can usually be lowered to about 10 percent with the help of chemically impregnated mosquito nets and a malaria control program, he said.