Widespread mosquito net distribution and an information campaign in Kratie province prevented widespread malaria during flooding over the past few weeks, officials said Wednesday.
“Most people there know how to prevent malaria…including using their mosquito nets properly,” said Cheam S’aem, provincial health director in Kratie.
Flooding usually increases the risks of malaria, because it drives people from lower, malaria-free areas into the forested mountains where mosquitoes carrying the disease live.
However, since the beginning of severe flooding in the northeastern province, health department officials have distributed 1,000 new mosquito nets and chemically retreated old ones to keep the number of malaria cases down, Cheam S’aem said.
Mosquito nets had been widely distributed earlier this year, and most people in Kratie now know how to prevent malaria, which kept the number of malaria cases lower, Cheam S’aem said.
About 7,000 people were evacuated from their homes in Bol Leau commune, Kratie district, the worst-hit area by the flooding in the province, according to Chan Sokhom Kanha, operational health director for Kratie district.
“All 1,000 new nets were provided to them,” he said.
Volunteers for the Ministry of Health walked through make-shift camps of displaced families. At night they advised people on proper use of their mosquito nets, Cheam S’aem said.
The mosquitoes that carry malaria only bite at night, making bed and hammock nets the best line of defense against the illness.
Thanks to widespread net distribution, cases of malaria in the district dropped by nearly 40 percent so far this year compared to last, Chan Sokhom Kanha said.
The floodwaters receded more rapidly this year compared to last, he said, another factor in the lower malaria rates.
But a success story in Kratie does not mean that the risks of malaria will be reduced.
Malaria-carrying mosquitoes cannot breed in most flooded areas, needing the type of shade provided by forested mountains. So there will be no direct link between a rise in the mosquito populations in flooded areas and malaria, said Dr Stefan Hoyer, World Health Organization adviser to the National Malaria Center.
However, there are several indirect links between flooding and malaria.
First, the people who are displaced from their homes and pushed to higher areas will be at risk, especially if they have lost household goods, including their bed nets. Those whose crops are underwater will seek other means of income, including moving to the forests to hunt or collect firewood or charcoal, Hoyer said. This will expose them to malaria immediately.
Secondly, if families lose their crops because of extensive flooding, they will seek out similar means of income in the forests again in December. Incidents of malaria could rise then, after the wet-season crops are harvested, Hoyer said.
“More people have to go to the forest to make ends meet,” he said.
Last year’s floods created extensive upheaval of families, many of whom lost everything but a cow or two. They collected in camps, where mosquito nets protected them from malaria and gave them at least some measure of comfort.
“In those cases, nets provide privacy and dignity,” Hoyer said. “[Even] if you have nothing left, if you have a mosquito net, you have a small place to call your own.”
(Additional reporting by Brian Calvert)