By the end of 2002, the National Malaria Center in Phnom Penh employed more than 35 doctors, 40 nurses and lab technicians, and a handful of pharmacists and other medical assistants. But this is not enough to combat malaria in Cambodia, officials said.
The Malaria Center’s training program feeds the provincial health network responsible for most of the hands-on work against malaria in the country. Those who come to Phnom Penh for training are already key medical personnel, often doctors, at their local health centers in the provinces.
“Only highly valuable staff from outside Phnom Penh come to the Malaria Center to study,” said Dr Nong Saokry, the vice director of the National Malaria Center.
The provincial doctors learn about the best treatment for drug resistant strains of malaria, dissect the “vectors” of malaria mosquitoes, and test the efficacy of various insecticide dyes to be used on bednets. Work with a new microscope, recently arrived from Singapore, will be a feature of the next classes.
The single, medium-sized lecture room appeared as if class had just been dismissed—notes and diagrams covered the blackboard. There is also a lab and a library with a few shelves of books.
When a large seminar is scheduled, one involving more than 100 people, it is held at the MCA Center or a large hotel, despite the high cost.
In addition to training for doctors at provincial health centers, The center also trains military medical staff—seven courses in 2002 for 135 trainees who will be stationed at the military hospital.
These trainees “represent the highest level of defense” in fighting malaria, Nong Saokry said.
But volunteer malaria workers who work out of mobile clinics—cars—and visit people in distant villages who do not have easy access to health care centers, are the first line of defense against malaria.
Volunteer malaria workers often live or are stationed in far-flung villages of remote provinces with high rates of malaria and receive no salary. They test suspected malaria patients with dipsticks, mobile tests that indicate with a drop of the patient’s blood if they are suffering from malaria.
If the dipstick test is positive, the volunteers give them a few anti-malaria tablets. If the case is already severe, they can drive the patient to the nearest health center.
“We provide the volunteers with some money for transportation, and with dipsticks and drug tablets,” Nong Saokry said. “But because they are not paid a salary, they must also have regular jobs to feed their families,” he said.
The doctors and volunteers both fight malaria, one in hospital rooms, the other in huts, and neither can fight this common enemy without the help of the other.