Under a dusty tarp supported on a frame of branches, members of 255 families waited Tuesday for a delivery of new malaria-prevention mosquito nets in a Sihanoukville municipality village.
The road through Prey Nob district to Prek Kranh village was built since Dr Duong Socheat, director of the National Malaria Center, last visited the area about two years ago, he said.
Last time he came by boat, ox-cart and foot to reach the villagers with the insecticide-infused nets, a seemingly simple thing that is the best defense against the disease.
“It was all forest,” he said. “There was a lot of malaria here until we brought the mosquito nets.”
Over half of the people tested positive for the disease when the malaria center first came about four years ago, he said.
As the caravan of vehicles pulled up to the crowd of people overflowing into the sunshine from under the tarp, there was a rustle of preparation and static distortion from a loudspeaker. The event was in front of the local schoolhouse, just a roof with no walls. Groups of two or three huddled under kramas, while younger faces shaded their eyes with baseball caps. One woman sitting close to the front fanned her breast-feeding baby with a krama as we sat and a series of speeches began, punctuated by short bursts of applause.
At one point I heard “Cambodia Daily” and looked up to see a microphone pointed at me. Flummoxed, I said it was an honor to distribute the nets on behalf of the newspaper and Glen Schmidt, the Canadian donor whose record contribution of $1,670, collected from his personal acquaintances, paid to keep over 1,200 people safe in their beds, Duong Socheat said.
The nets’ insecticide lasts for one year, but new nets arrive only every other year. Nonetheless, villagers said malaria has been almost eradicated since the first nets arrived and the road allowed access to medical care at a clinic over 30 km away.
Duong Socheat said he hopes to have nets with a 3-year life span and hammock nets for those who work in the forest soon, but the funds are not yet available.
As we drove off later, people were still walking the long distance to their houses on the outskirts of the village at the edge of the forest, nets in hand.