The majority of schoolchildren exposed to health education materials about malaria learn about the parasitic disease and are the country’s brightest prospect for lowering incidence of malaria, according to a new study conducted by the National Malaria Center.
A baseline survey of schoolchildren’s knowledge of malaria conducted in June indicated that out of approximately 590 students in Battambang, Kompong Cham and Banteay Meanchey provinces, an average of 82 percent had seen or heard of malaria. An average 77 percent said sleeping in bed nets is the best way to keep malaria at bay.
The students surveyed showed a far greater awareness of malaria than the adults throughout the country have shown in previous surveys, said Dr Noukhen Thavrin, head of the Health Ministry’s health education department, on Thursday.
“Children know more than parents. In Cambodia, if the children say something, the older people do not believe them. But the new generation will be better because they get new information from teachers and change their behaviors,” Noukhen Thavrin said.
The 16 schools surveyed were located in highly endemic areas benefiting from bed net campaigns and malaria educational kits, so the study is not a fair representation of students’ malaria knowledge throughout the entire country, she said.
On average, 58 percent of the students surveyed sought malaria treatment from health clinics,
6 percent purchased medicine and 32 percent received treatment from the private sector.
An average of 47 percent of students said sleeping outside of a bed net causes malaria. About 7 percent of all students said people contracted malaria if they did not eat enough. Only 2.6 percent said spirits cause malaria, showing that far fewer students held the belief followed by many adult members of Ratanakkiri hill tribes surveyed by the National Malaria Center earlier this year.
The National Malaria Center designed the study to gauge the effectiveness of educational kits provided by the Japanese Embassy, she said. Eight thousand kits, which included various visual and written educational materials and games, have been distributed to schools in 11 provinces and one district since December 2002, she said.
With a limited Ministry of Health budget and sparse Ministry of Education health curriculum, external support to enhance health lessons is crucial to arming Cambodia’s next generation with a fighting knowledge of malaria and other diseases, Noukhen Thavrin said.
Ministry of Education Secretary of State Im Sethy said Thursday that health education is a high priority for Cambodian children but admitted that textbooks currently do little to teach about malaria and other diseases.
“We introduce in our textbook how to prevent and how to cure but not deeply enough to let them know. We not only talk about malaria but HIV/AIDS, hygiene and nutrition,” he said.