Officials: New Disease Threat Overshadowing Malaria Fight

Severe acute respiratory syndrome to date has killed at least 375 people across the globe. Ma­laria kills at least 1 million people every year. The attention the outbreak of SARS has received from the international media has drawn needed attention to the world’s state of health, but has pushed less-dramatic diseases farther into the shadows, health officials said.

“[SARS] is not the major health problem in Cambodia, especially since we don’t have a case,” said the World Health Organization’s Dr Severin Von Xylander, noting that the most important recommendation he could give the public about SARS is “to keep things in perspective.”

Dr Stefan Hoyer, the WHO’s com­municable disease control coordinator, said the attention the international community has paid to SARS is merited, as the disease’s fatality rate is much higher than malaria’s. SARS kills approximately 5 percent of its patients while malaria kills 1 percent, he said.

“SARS could actually be wiped out in a couple of months if we’re active in pursuing the cases,” Hoyer said. “But malaria is a parasitic disease specific to mankind that’s been around since the beginning of mankind and [will be] for the time being.”

The global effort to identify a cause and cure for SARS and to prevent its spread has drained financial resources from other diseases, Hoyer said.

WHO bodies throughout the Western Pacific collectively have gone $1.2 million into debt to fight SARS, Hoyer said.

But he said he was confident that Cambodia’s malaria program will not be directly affected by the strain, since the resources the WHO has reserved for SARS will be repaid by the international community and wealthier affected governments.

Finding the resources to combat more common diseases like malaria will continue to be a challenge for Cambodia, however.

In 2002, malaria caused 300 deaths in Cambodia, a figure that likely reflects just 10 percent of the fatalities caused by the disease, Hoyer said. But even malaria survivors are victims of poverty. With the cost of private health care rising, Hoyer said that more and more Cambodians are selling their land and becoming trapped in a cycle of debt.

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