Rural Cambodians Depend on Donations for Protective Nets

Pol Pot had a mosquito net. The news went around the world, but not many people took notice.

Rather, it was the death of the former Khmer Rouge leader that hit headlines. The fact that Pol Pot’s wife was tying a mosquito net for him when she discovered his death is just a minor detail.

Chon has no mosquito net. The 2-year-old boy lies naked and unprotected from mosquitoes on a bamboo mat. His fragile body, suffering from a fever, shivers so strongly that the floor and sides of the wooden hut vibrate. Chon has malaria. The nasty, life-threatening shivers are the result of a mosquito bite.

Because only the female mosquitoes—carriers of the dangerous parasite—bite after dusk, a mosquito net is still the safest protection. But it costs about $5 for a family mosquito net that can protect two to three people while they sleep. These nets are too expensive for most Cambodians.

“We depend on donations to be able to give away more nets,” says Mam Bun Heng, undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Health.

In the National Malaria Cen­ter’s conference room in Phnom Penh, Stefan Hoyer bends over a map of Ratanakkiri. Thousands of people die in the heavily forested province from the falciparum parasite, which is transmitted by the aggressive anopheles mosquito.

“We wanted to send nets and medicine to Ratanakkiri, but only a few days ago the trucks were attacked,” says Hoyer, director of the National Malaria Center.

Instead, when malaria experts fly from Phnom Penh to Ban­lung, the capital of Ratanakkiri, each team member carries as many nets as possible.

The little plane is so overloaded its undercarriage collapses while landing in Banlung. Unhurt but shaken, the World Health Organ­ization team grabs its bags and hops into a 4-wheel-drive vehicle to the village of Ka Chok.

The village consists of 240 members of the Jalai ethnic mi­nority. One of them is Chon.

“The fever came three days ago,” says his mother, Phiyach. Malaria here is as common as a cold anywhere else, but the fear is written on the mothers’ faces.

“We used to have seven children. Three have already died of malaria,” says Phiyach, taking the hand of her 5-year-old daughter, who also has malaria.

The team opens a clinic on the back of a vehicle. Chon is registered and gets his temperature taken. He screams as a health worker takes blood from his finger. The test diagnoses him with malaria, and he receives a dose of mefloquine. He will survive.

Health workers distribute new nets and impregnate old ones with insecticide. They also take blood samples to test at their laboratory in Phnom Penh. “When we were here the first time two years ago, 50 percent of the children were infected. Now only 20 percent are infected,” Hoyer says. (Trans­lation from German by Ri­carda Dohr)

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