Despite an increase in malaria cases and deaths from malaria in 2006, there has been overall progress in combating the disease in Cambodia, senior health officials say.
According to public health center figures reported by the National Malaria Center, 22 percent more people were treated for malaria in 2006 than 2005. However, that same 2006 figure of 90,883 treated cases is still down 11 percent on treated cases in 2004 and 32 percent on 2003.
“It is important to view last year’s results in context,” said Philippe Guyant, malaria program manager for Partners for Development, which works with the government at a community level to combat malaria in certain provinces.
“The big picture in Cambodia is that the malaria situation is improving,” Guyant added. In 1997, according to the same NMC report, 170,387 people came down with malaria and at least 811 died.
The figures from 2006-90,883 cases and 355 deaths-show a 47 percent decrease in treated cases and a 56 percent decrease in malaria-related deaths from nearly one decade ago.
NMC Deputy Director Keng Sim said that progress against malaria can be mainly attributed to more health education, better trained health workers who can more appropriately diagnose malaria patients and a newly-implemented hospital referral system that allows patients to receive care with enough time to treat the disease.
In comparing last year’s data to previous years, she said, the important figures to look at are the case fatality rates, which measure how many out of every 100 people who came to a health center with malaria died.
The rates for 2005 and 2006 are 10.43 and 8.1 respectively, she said, which is a marked improvement.
Keng Sim also said that the 2006 spike in malaria cases is due in large part to an exceptionally heavy wet season, which was accompanied by more mosquitoes.
In the high, forested regions of Cambodia along the borders with Thailand, Vietnam and Laos-where malaria is most prevalent-there was a 10 to 30 percent increase in rainfall from 2005 to 2006, according to Seth Vannareth, director of meteorology at the Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology.
She also emphasized that there was more rain countrywide last year than there had been on average in 27 years.
Also, more people are seeking treatment and being sent to health centers when they contract malaria, which also accounts for an increase in documented cases, Keng Sim said.
“Now that we have people coming to health facilities, it is time to focus on the quality to improve healthcare,” said Kiv Sokha, malaria program coordinator at Partners for Development, on the sidelines of its recent annual workshop.
There needs to be an adequate supply of anti-malarial drugs and more accurate diagnoses, he added.
But Junko Yasuoka, a World Health Organization malaria scientist in Cambodia, said that despite the figures from NMC, no one can be sure how many people contract malaria and die from it each year.
“The [Center’s] figures only pertain to the public health sector and 80 percent of those who get malaria go through the private sector,” she said.