Medicine, 600 Nets Given to Soldiers Near Thailand Border

choam khsan, Preah Vihear province – In this rural district near the northern border with Thailand, soldiers—as well as civilians—have been fighting a losing battle against malaria.

There are more than 2,000 soldiers and about 15,000 civilians who live here. Malaria is rampant, with 65 to 70 percent coming down with the illness, according to officials.

But help in the form of 600 mosquito nets arrived at an army base here last week. A delegation of Phnom Penh-based officials that included Secretary of State for Health Mam Bunheng and representatives from the World Health Organization, the US Embassy and the European Commission presented the nets, as well as medicine and literature, to army officials on May 8. Nat­ional Malaria Center staff demonstrated for soldiers how to soak bednets in insecticide.

The remote area, 70 km south of the Thai border, was even more isolated during fighting with Khmer Rouge rebels in recent years. But delivering medical supplies or seeking treatment is difficult even today. It is a two-day drive over rough road in the rainy season from Preah Vihear to Siem Reap, via Kom­pong Thom, and then another day to reach the capital. Medicine and supplies usually arrive here by helicopter, as they did last week.

Visiting officials received a tour of an empty public health center—a cement building with unused equip­ment and vacant beds. The government can’t afford to pay medical staff enough to tend to these rural facilities, ex­plained Roberto Garcia, co-director of the EC’s malaria control project in Cam­bodia. As a result, 90 percent of Cam­bodians who come down with malaria go to private prov­iders who are often ineffective, he said.

By contrast, down the road is a wood-built ramshackle military health center where patients—most of them soldiers—filled the dozen or so beds. Officials said that every patient, with the exception of one soldier, had been admitted for malaria.

Garcia said in many rural areas, patients who come to a health center with a fever are often assumed to have malaria.

“But it’s not good to give them malaria medicine if they do not have malaria. It could create some resistance to the drugs,” he said.

The stop in Choam Khsan was the second leg of a day-long trip that first stopped at the Preah Vihear temples. Soldiers there were given 100 bednets and medicine.


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