thpong district, Kampong Speu province – Hundreds of villagers sat in rows on the dusty ground, baking in the mid-morning sun in this remote region, as district chief Toun Song gave them specific instructions about the insecticide-treated mosquito nets they were about to receive.
“If you receive the nets don’t just keep it in the corner of your house—use it. Don’t use this net for fishing. Don’t sell it—just use it to sleep under,” said Toun Song in a speech as the villagers silently stared up at him. “If you sleep under this net you will be safe and not have malaria. If you don’t, you will get sick and pay lots of money and lose days of work and get sick.”
As a guest riding along with the visiting doctors from the National Malaria Center, I was asked to make a speech.
I had not been expecting this. I managed to say hello and that I was from Canada in Khmer.
Switching to English, I said that we were here to give them these nets because people from far away, who didn’t know them, cared about them and gave money to the Cambodia Daily Mosquito Net Campaign to buy nets.
I told them that it was important that they used these nets every night to sleep under so that they didn’t get malaria.
Finally I thanked them for having me and told them how much I was enjoying meeting the people of Cambodia. Everybody clapped and laughed. A ring of children fluttered around me curiously.
After speeches from Hem Reng and Dr Tho Sochantha, the head of entomology at the malaria center, we started handing out the nets, which are blue or pink depending on their size and adorned with a drawing of a mother and children beneath a net.
Snuol village residents received 459 nets for 1,143 inhabitants; the 1,608 residents of Kauk village received 659 nets.
Malaria-carrying mosquitoes bite only at night, so a well-maintained, chemically treated net is an important part of prevention of the disease, a blood parasite that is one of Cambodia’s top killers.
The National Malaria Center, which is under the Ministry of Health, combines the net distribution with advancements in treatment and medication. In addition, with the assistance of the European Commission, mosquito nets for hammocks, along with insecticide are being sold at pharmacies across the country.
Am Lang commune is particularly high risk for malaria because it is next to a forest that is full of mosquitoes.
Many of the villagers cut wood in the forest to sell and spend the night there in hammocks uncovered by nets.
Mya Huoun, a 53-year-old mother of three from Snuol village said she was happy to get a net. She had malaria once before.
“I had chills and then a fever. After two days I went to the hospital and they gave me medicine which made me feel better. It cost 10,000 riel so I had to go to cut wood in the forest to pay back my debt.”