TRAM KAK DISTRICT, Takeo province – Escaping the Monday morning sun under kramas and the shelter of a makeshift schoolhouse, villagers gathered in Bostaphong village this week for the area’s first malaria net distribution.
“The problem was access,” said Duong Socheat, director of the National Malaria Center, about finally being able to reach the region with truckloads of bed nets.
The remote village sits in the middle of a flat stretch of land surrounded by lush, green mountains, and the one road that leads there is dented with deep ruts. Until about five years ago, Bostaphong was off-limits, controlled by Khmer Rouge guerrillas and blanketed with dense jungle.
When the civil strife ended, people began returning. They cleared the forest for rice paddies, farms and fields for grazing cattle.
Monday’s mosquito net distribution was the result of a Ministry of Health report on Tram Kak inhabitants. They found at least three people living with malaria.
Coming from five villages and traveling as long as one day, about 1,171 villagers from 249 different families gathered for the net distribution. Health officials handed out 600 nets that were purchased through donations to The Cambodia Daily Mosquito Net Campaign.
Along with the nets, officials also handed out plenty of advice. Education is the key to making the malaria center’s prevention campaign work, Duong Socheat said.
During their health survey, officials found that only 50 percent of people with mosquito nets actually used them. And many that are used aren’t used for sleeping.
Many people use them for fishing, said Miyoko Okamoto, project manager for the Association of Medical Doctors of Asia, a Japan-based NGO working with the Ministry of Health that provides health care for Takeo’s rural inhabitants.
Although there are only a few known cases of malaria among the villagers who received the nets on Monday, keeping that number low remains a challenge, Okamoto said. “First we have to prevent them from being bitten.”
Throughout Cambodia, efforts including net distribution have helped reduce the number of malaria cases. In 2002, there were 420 reported malaria-related fatalities, down from 476 in 2001. Officials report about 110,762 current cases nationwide.