battambang town – Thousands of refugees flooding into the Samlot area from Thailand over the last several months may be leading to an increase in malaria cases, according to some aid workers there.
Malaria cases have more than doubled each month since refugees began arriving at several aid stations throughout the region, aid workers say.
But some malaria specialists warn these figures may be misleading and merely reflect the sudden population explosion in Samlot rather than an outbreak of new cases.
Since February almost 23,000 people have settled at least temporarily in the area, said Johann Siffointe, head of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ Battambang field office.
In O’Tateak, where the Italian aid organization Emergency opened a station in February, 976 cases of malaria have been reported, according to Emergency representative Anna Marchesi. In three other Emergency stations in O’Chom, O’Rokrot and Chamlong Kuoy, a total of 1,880 malaria cases have been reported by Emergency workers. Most of the those cases—1,037—have been found in O’Rokrot, where an aid station opened in April, Marchesi said.
Both Marchesi and Siffointe blame the large number of people congregating in the area during the rainy season for the malaria cases.
“You never would have thought so many people would come. Until now there was no one living there,” Marchesi said.
While aid workers have been treating existing cases, preventative measures, such as mosquito nets, are what is really needed as the tide of refugees climbs, Marchesi said. “There is really nothing in the way of prevention right now,” she said.
Little has been done to track the malaria in the Samlot area and Dr Jan Rozendaal, a malaria adviser with the European Commission’s Cambodia malaria control program, said this needs to be done to establish whether the malaria cases are indeed originating in Samlot or being carried from over the border.
Malaria cases are typically found in men in their 20s who often work for days in the jungle and come into frequent contact with the disease-carrying mosquitoes, Rozendaal said.
Rozendaal said it is possible the number of cases could decrease once the rainy season ends.