samlot district, Battambang province – As a Khmer Rouge soldier in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, Prak Sarath spent plenty of time in the jungle. And he knows what it is like to spend days or weeks fighting off the symptoms of malaria.
“Sometimes I would feel unconscious for a week,” he said in his roadside hut in Kantuot village last week. “The malaria seems to be very accustomed to me. I have had it many times.”
Now that he is a farmer and is raising children, he is fighting another losing battle in keeping malaria away from his children.
Malaria has also become accustomed to Prak Sarath’s 18-year-old son, Sok Chan Than. When asked about the illness, Sok Chan Than said, wearily, “Oh., I have had it a lot.”
Sok Theary, Prak Sarath’s 7- year-old daughter, had malaria in June. And now, Prak Sarath’s 13- year-old son Sok Phalla has malaria.
A Khmer Rouge-trained physician in a nearby village diagnosed the illness more than a week ago and prescribed medicine to Sok Phalla. The boy says he is gradually feeling better.
“One week ago he looked very pale and had a fever,” Prak Sarath said. “So I brought him to the private clinic to have a blood test.”
Sok Phalla is now the same age his father was when he became a Khmer Rouge fighter in 1973. This is the boy’s second bout with malaria, having fought it off about a year ago.
Prak Sarath swears that his family of four children sleeps each night under treated and newly distributed mosquito nets.
“We are never careless about that,” he said.
But the family lives just a few hundred meters from jungle forest, which Prak Sarath and his children often enter to gather firewood.
Malaria incidence in Samlot district decreased 10 percent to 15 percent in the first six months of this year, compared to same period in 2004, according to Ouk Vithiea, provincial malaria and dengue supervisor.
Volunteers in communes are educating villagers about malaria, but authorities still worry that malaria rates will jump back up because newcomers to the area, who come in search of cheap and available land or work as laborers, have little health knowledge, Ouk Vithiea said.
But even with full knowledge of how to avoid and treat malaria, and with respect for the importance of using a mosquito net, the threat of malaria remains a reality for poor villagers like the family of Prak Sarath.