Traditional medicine practitioners, drug sellers and the school system need to be enlisted in the fight against malaria, a delegation from the Malaria Consortium said upon leaving Cambodia .
Dr Sylvia Meek, head of the Malaria Consortium, and Bridget King, an educational consultant for the consortium, were in Cambodia for two weeks to examine the malaria control efforts being led by the World Health Organization. The Malaria Consortium is an arm of the UK Department of International Development, which funds WHO’s office in Cambodia.
“I think on the whole there’s been a lot of progress made,” Meek said. “Malaria is still a major problem, but there’s a strong program in place to deal with it.”
Meek also praised the efforts to cover residents of malaria-prone rural areas with mosquito nets.
King said the use of the nets by rural residents can be credited to NGOs working in those areas, which “are doing some excellent work” in educating the public about how malaria is transmitted by the mosquitoes.
However, health education needs to be introduced in formal schools, King said. Children could then teach their parents and generations would graduate knowing how to live a healthy life, she said. “You get it right at the beginning with the kids.”
King also said practitioners of traditional medicine and sellers of pharmaceutical drugs in Cambodia are a resource that “shouldn’t be ignored.”
Traditional medicine could go a long way to wipe out malaria, King said. However, centuries of knowledge were possibly lost during the bloody Khmer Rouge regime, and environmental degradation has wiped out many of the plants used in herbal remedies. In Ratanakkiri, King said villagers had heard that small nightly fires that burn the leaves of a tree called neem can keep mosquitoes away. But, few people know what the tree looks like.
Drug sellers also need to be taught to dispense malaria drugs properly, King and Meek said. “They really do need some better information,” Meek said.
Also, the issue of false malaria drugs being sold is a problem, Meek said. “That a drug seller would knowingly sell medicine that is fake is really quite troubling,” she said.
Meek praised WHO’s work and cooperation with the National Malaria Center and other malaria-fighting agencies in Cambodia and hoped the work would continue.
“They’ve achieved a lot in the support for the national program,” she said.