Many Poor Cambodians With Malaria Turn to Natural Medicine

kratie town – Across the Mekong River from this remote provincial capital are even more remote villages where people who lack health care centers and money are turning to nature to treat malaria and other illnesses.

The Khmer Association for Development of Countryside Cambodia is using plants to bridge the gap between government policies and the actual capacity of the rural poor.

“The Malaria Center warns people about fake drugs and tells them to take certain medicine for malaria, but how can people follow that when they don’t even have drugs to take?” said Chhoeun Rith, KAFDOC’s program officer.

The Ministry of Health’s National Malaria Center follows World Health Organization guide­lines to fight and treat malaria. The program suggests using mosquito bed nets treated with mosquito-killing insecticide as a preventative measure.

People suffering from malaria should not wait to seek medical care, and are advised to take a combination anti-malaria drug therapy.

But that prescription is a reality for few people, Chhoeun Rith said.

KAFDOC offers its contacts two medical choices: Seek help at the health center in a neighboring commune, or use traditional medicine.

In Prek Prasap district, there are no health centers in Kom­pong Kor commune, Chun Krong commune and Russei commune. And sick people often feel hopeless, with no money to carry them to the nearest clinic in Chambot commune, Chhoeun Rith said.

Distrust of public health centers—notorious for high fees and bad service—also dissuades many people from seeking formal treatment. Patients instead appeal to private clinics, including KAFDOC, for help, Chhoeun Rith said.

Jars of plants and roots collected by community members line the centers’ shelves, he said. The natural ingredients make teas, salves and wine.

Village volunteers run the centers, with guidance from KAFDOC and training from a doctor specializing in traditional medicine, who visits twice a year from India. The network reaches 10 villages and 700 families in three communes, Chhoeun Rith said.

The natural remedies are controversial among the scientific community, and the Ministry of Health does not formally recognize alternative medicine as a legitimate treatment.

Dr Cheam Saem, Kratie pro­vincial health department director, said the provincial health center stores enough medicine for everyone, but admitted distance keeps many sick from receiving needed drugs.

Treating malaria naturally, he said, is dangerous.

“If you use inadequate drugs, people with normal malaria could fall into a coma,” he said. “Malaria has a precise prescription. The mortality rate for people who used the inadequate doses is high.”

But Chhoeun Rith says people with no resources or means of travel have no other choice. With no other health options, he said, alternative medicine is their only hope.

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