kulen district, Preah Vihear province – Here we go again, I thought: Another malaria mission. The last trip I went on, the problem was intense topography, rocky hills that swept up and down. This time, the problem was the opposite. We were driving on jungle steppe, where the rain likes to puddle up.
The Ministry of Health’s National Malaria Center team and I were in Preah Vihear province, land of 10,000 bridges, on a mud-slick road on our way to North Kulen village, Kulen district. Six hundred and eighty-eight villagers were waiting for us and our 300 mosquito nets. The nets were purchased with donations from the Cambodia Daily Mosquito Net Campaign.
We arrived at the village and were met by the two people responsible for this net mission, Francois Ponchaud, author of “Cambodia: Year Zero,” and Lach Loth, a former Khmer Rouge medic who now works with the sick in Phnom Penh.
Lach Loth was born in North Kulen, where her son still lives with his family.
On a visit here two months ago, she said she saw at least five deaths that she attributed to malaria. She asked the National Malaria Center to make the distribution.
Ponchaud, who first came to Cambodia in 1965, said nets here were important, but that information was critical as well. Here, as well as in other parts of the country, many people still believe malaria comes from dirty water or angry forest spirits.
The village itself isn’t what the malaria center considers “high-risk.”
Its distance from the forests precludes that. Even though the Anopheles mosquito’s bloodlust can carry her 2 km in search of food, areas outside 1 km are not considered at risk, according to Yeang Chheang, a malaria adviser at the center.
The villagers, however, sometimes travel as long as a full day to reach their steppe rice fields, bringing them into contact with the mosquitoes that carry the blood parasite.
“We call them semi-nomadic people,” Yeang Chheang said.
It took us a full day to reach the village, on roads barely passable from rains a few days before. One heavy rain was all it would take to sock us into North Kulen for who knows how long.
The next morning, we delivered the nets and quickly set off for Phnom Penh, with gratitude for still passable roads.
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