The US government on Wednesday donated enough money to the Cambodia’s malaria program to protect nearly a quarter of a million people from malaria diseases through the use of mosquito nets.
Malaria experts say the nets come at a critical time, when flooding in many provinces has increased exposure risk to the mosquito-borne parasite in certain areas.
“This is a very crucial moment,” said Dr Stefan Hoyer, who heads the World Health Organization’s malaria program in Cambodia.
In a small ceremony at the National Malaria Center headquarters in Phnom Penh, US Ambassador Kent Wiedemann donated $200,000 to the Center.
The money will be used to purchase chemically treated nets to battle the “extremely serious malaria infestation in this country, which affects far too many people,” Wiedemann said.
More than 2 million people across the country are at risk of contracting malaria, Hoyer said.
Of those, around 1.5 million people are dependent on the forest for sustenance and income, while another half million live in areas where malaria-carrying mosquitoes—or vectors—live.
However, the numbers of people exposed to malaria is likely to spike due to the recent flooding, Hoyer said.
In provinces like Kratie and Stung Treng, swelling Mekong waters are causing mass evacuations of populations usually living along the river.
Those families—many of whom have lost most of their possessions—including their mosquito nets—to the floodwaters—end up seeking safety from the floods at higher elevations, in the forested hills. Unfortunately, those forests are also the habitat of malarial mosquitoes.
“The people are moving into the hills,” said Dr Mam Bun Heng, secretary of state for the Ministry of Health. “The mosquitoes stay in those hills.”
WHO is planning a net distribution trip to the northwest next month, Hoyer said.
The flooding will also increase malaria cases even after the waters recede.
Because many crops will have been destroyed by the time the water abates, more people will become dependent on the forest to survive, bringing them into malaria zones.
Malaria-carrying mosquitoes are nocturnal, feeding on sleeping hosts, which makes the bed nets one of the most effective preventions against the disease, which killed at least 890 Cambodians last year.
So far this year, the US has donated nearly $1 million toward fighting malaria, through trucks, nets, medical supplies and other equipment, Wiedemann said.
Most of the nets purchased from the latest US donation will be stockpiled to be distributed during the dry season, Hoyer said.
Many of the worst-hit areas for malaria are also the hardest to get to during the rainy season.
However, some of the nets will be used sooner, to provide relief to flood refugees, Hoyer said.
As flooding continues to destroy homes, he said, the nets will serve double-duty. Not only will they protect displaced families from mosquitoes, but in some areas, they are use for basic shelter.
Prior to the US donation, the supplies of nets were ebbing. But now, the net distribution program will be in “very good shape,” Hoyer said.