WHO Says Cambodia on Track to Reach Zero Malaria Deaths

Eight Cambodians have died from malaria so far this year, compared to 37 in the same period last year, a drop of about 80 percent and a sign that the country could soon reach the goal of zero malaria deaths, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Wednesday.

“I think we are going towards zero malaria deaths,” WHO spokesman Sonny Krishnan said, adding that the distribution of bednets is still the most simple and effective way to decrease the incidence of the disease, which is caused by a parasite transmitted through mosquitoes.

“Nothing can beat the distribution of insecticide-treated bednets. If you get people to sleep under them, that’s what really brings down the number of cases,” Mr. Krishnan said ahead of the release of the WHO’s global malaria report Wednesday.

More than 3 million bednets have been distributed in Cambodia since 2010, 2 million of them last year, leading to a dramatic drop to 33,769 cases as of October this year compared to 59,668 for the same period last year, Mr. Krishnan said. This represents a decrease of about 45 percent.

The success, he said, was also due to the deployment of 1,500 village-level malaria workers, who are stationed in pairs in villages most affected by malaria, ready to conduct a malaria test as soon as residents show the first symptoms of the disease.

The test, Mr. Krishnan said, takes only a couple of minutes to administer, and the workers are also trained to prescribe drugs for diagnosed cases and monitor patients’ recovery.

“Some of the villages are quite remote, the health centers are far away, and the village malaria workers are our frontline health workers,” he said.

Almost half of Cambodia’s population lives in areas classified as high-malaria risk, which include parts of Battambang, Kompong Speu, Pursat, Preah Vihear, Mondolkiri, Ratanakkiri, Pailin and Siem Reap provinces, according to the Mekong Malaria Program.

In 2007, health workers detected malaria resistance to the Artemisinin-based Combination Treatment—the drug therapy used to treat malaria—along the Thai-Cambodian border. Since then, the WHO has tried to keep the drug-resistant strain from spreading across borders, which could have disastrous effects if it reaches Africa, where the majority of malaria cases and deaths occur.

Malaria parasites had also developed resistance along the Thai-Cambodian border against the drug previously used for treatment, chloroquine.

As of this year, Mr. Krishnan said, mobile migrant workers were being tested for malaria before crossing the Thai-Cambodian border.

“We started this year to have malaria checkpoints at the border where mobile migrant workers get tested before they cross the border,” Mr. Krishnan said.

People carrying malaria will still be allowed to cross, but joint surveillance between Cambodia and Thailand helps authorities monitor cases.

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