pailin – It was a typically hot day in mountainous southwest Battambang province, as a convoy of all-terrain vehicles, led by a pick-up truck loaded with eight AK-47-armed soldiers, snaked through muddy trails en route to the remote town of Pailin.
Along the bumpy path, the convoy passed makeshift homes where residents came forth to view the rare parade.
Such an expedition by the National Malaria Center would be unthinkable several years ago. But the Khmer Rouge in the Pailin area defected to the government in late 1996, opening the region to often badly-needed visits from aid organizations.
With the area now secured by RCAF, a team from the center flew to the region last week to deliver more than 2,000 nets and other supplies to soldiers, their families and a hospital.
Pailin was cited in the center’s 1999 annual report as a newly marked location for aid because of its relatively recent accessibility. Before this year, the center did not travel there. Last week’s trip by the center was in conjunction with the European Union’s Malaria Control program.
The team first landed by helicopter to the town of Phnom Preuk, where they were greeted by hundreds of soldiers. About 1,600 nets were distributed, along with malaria-testing dipsticks, insecticide for soaking nets, and medicine such as Artesunate and dextrose IV packs.
From Phnom Preuk, the caravan flew to Infantry Command Post No 22, where the team was greeted by more soldiers and speeches of gratitude. At the post, 1,200 nets and more anti-malaria supplies were given out.
The tour continued by truck, to Pailin, near the Thai border. There the group toured the hospital, where more supplies were given, including microscopes, which help detect malaria.
Bed nets were donated to the Center by the EU malaria program, USAID and various NGOs, said Steve Needham, a press and information officer for the European Union.
Roberto Garcia, national director of the EU’s Malaria Control program, said fighting malaria is not just about keeping people from getting sick, it’s about helping to keep the social and economical fabric of a society intact.
“When people get sick, they do not work,” Garcia said. “When they do not work, they get poor.”
The EU’s program, which has worked with the center in distribution of nets throughout this country, is scheduled to continue at least one more year.
“The project will continue until the end of next year,” Garcia said. “But we hope it’s going to be longer. Controlling malaria is a complex problem with a complex answer.”