Malaria Slows Some Boat Racers as They Compete Today

Racing boat teams from forested provinces can be at a disadvantage during Water Festival competition. Ask Sao Mov, a rower from Kompong Thom, whose stroke is weaker than usual because of malaria.

The 42-year-old farmer said Wednesday that he most likely contracted a recurring form of the mosquito-borne illness two years ago, when he was a soldier, sleeping in the forested areas of his province.

The mosquito that carries the malaria parasite in Asia needs a shady climate to flourish, and the forests of Kompong Thom province provide just such an environment.

“When I was a soldier, there was no mosquito net for sleeping,” he said. “Just a hammock.”

He’s not sure what medicine to buy, so he takes pain relievers.

“I don’t know what the malaria medicine looks like,” he said.

Fever and cold flashes hit him occasionally, and sometimes he feels weak. But even though he’s not at full strength for the boat races, if he backed out, he would be hurting the chances of his 58-man boat.

He is a crew member on the O’Dommean Chey Baramei Stung Sen, which translates as The Best Majestic Winner of Sen Lake.

He’s not the only one on that boat that suffers from malaria. Crewmate Klout Phea, 24, also suffers from recurring malaria spells. He figures he caught the illness about a year ago when he went into the forest to cut fresh wood to renovate his house in Samdang district.

He slept in the woods without a net, even though people had warned him against it, Klout Phea said Wednesday.

Now he feels sick about every other week. “During the races, I have no power in my legs,” he said. “But even though I know I’m weak, I’m still a boat racer.”

Both Klout Phea and Sao Mov represent new targets for the Ministry of Health’s malaria reduction strategy.

The ministry’s National Mala­ria Center in recent weeks has increasingly focused on hammock-sleepers, launching two new products and an ad campaign to go with them.

The “peace net” and the “peace pill” are both being offered to people who travel into the forest from their homes in search of extra income. The net fits snugly around a hammock, and the pill that comes with it can be used to treat it with insecticide, Malaria Center officials say.

Sao Mov said he had heard of the hammock nets over the radio, but had not yet seen any for sale back home.

Malaria center officials say the nets and insecticide tablets will soon be distributed throughout the country for sale.

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