Ignorance about correct treatment for malaria continues to make the disease one of the most common causes of deaths among adults in Cambodia.
Health officials are hoping a new, prepackaged malaria pill will help correct the problem by providing medication with simple, easy-to-follow directions.
Officials from the Ministry of Health and the National Malaria Center are working with the World Health Organization and the European Commission to develop prepackaged pills that are already in boxes with correct dosages, according to a person’s size and age.
Officials hope to have a pilot program to test the pills (called Malarine) by the end of October so the product can be introduced nationally by early next year, said Dr Stefan Hoyer, medical officer for malaria control at the World Health Organization.
Many Cambodians have built up resistance to malaria treatment drugs or experience reoccurrences of the disease because they take insufficient dosages or the wrong medication.
“People negotiate with the drug vendor to buy whatever they feel like investing,” Hoyer said. “Neither the buyer nor the vendor knows how much [medicine] they should be taking.”
Jan Rozendaal, malaria adviser for the European Commission’s malaria control program in Cambodia, said the purpose of the prepackaged pill is to increase consumer awareness about correct malaria treatment.
For the private sector, the prepackaged malaria pills will be put in trendy-looking boxes, much like the Number One condom brand packaging. “We will put a quality seal of approval and make it look very attractive so people will think it’s the best one,” Rozendaal said.
Because most Cambodians go to the private sector for help when they are ill instead of public health facilities, it’s important to involve and educate consumers and drug vendors about malaria treatment, Rozendaal said.
A dipstick diagnostic test to see whether someone has malaria also is being included in the project. The dipstick, which works much like pregnancy tests found in grocery stores, will give people an easy way to find out whether they actually have malaria or just a fever, Rozendaal said.
The details of the pills and the dipstick are still being finalized, such as the price and the look of the package, said Dr Doung Socheat, vice director of the National Malaria Center.
Rozendaal acknowledges a lot of things could go wrong with the pills, including drug vendors giving the wrong amounts of the package to customers.
“Will mothers crush the pill for their babies? We don’t know. It’s complicated,” he said.
That’s why it’s important to test the pills out in a few shops first to work out problems before the medication is introduced nationally, Rozendaal said.
About 7.05 per 1,000 people contract malaria in Cambodia and 5,000 people die every year of the disease, according to a February report by the Ministry of Health.