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Diarrhea blamed for two deaths in Ratanakkiri

TWO ethnic Kreung men from Ratanakkiri province’s O’Chum district died last week from acute watery diarrhoea, and another 55 were hospitalised after drinking from tainted water sources near Tresh village, a provincial health official said.

In addition, a staffer for the rights group Adhoc said two Kreung girls died on Saturday from acute watery diarrhoea in the same village, though officials could not confirm this Sunday.

The reports come just over a week after four ethnic Brov villagers from Ratanakkiri’s Veun Sai district died and 10 required treatment at a health centre after coming down with acute watery diarrhoea, another incident that was blamed on unclean drinking water.

Hoy Vannara, head of Ratanakkiri’s Communicable Diseases Control Department, said Sunday that the two deaths he could confirm occurred on April 10 and April 12.

He said tests were being conducted on the victims’ and hospitalised patients’ fecal matter, but that results were not yet available. Still, he said that the villagers’ general lack of hygiene and unsanitary food and water were likely at fault.

“It was not cholera,” he said.

We have sent patients ... in serious condition to the provincial hospital.

He said that no new cases had been reported since April 12, and that all of the hospitalised patients in O’Chum district were recovering.
“We have sent patients who were in serious condition to the provincial hospital, and we have sent heath officials to treat the less serious ones in their villages,” he said.

However, Chou Savath, who works for Adhoc in Ratanakkiri, said residents of O’Chum district had told him that two girls died on Saturday from acute watery diarrhoea they contracted after drinking water from a stream that had been polluted by the rotting carcass of a dog.

Hoy Vannara said that health officials would be sent to investigate that report, but that he suspected it was just a rumour.

He said there had been eight deaths due to acute watery diarrhoea in the province so far this year.

Dr Nima Asgari, public health specialist for the World Health Organisation (WHO), said that nationwide there had been “generally a much higher number of acute watery diarrhoea cases when compared to last year”.

In the dry season, when the water supply is more concentrated, he said, there is greater risk of diarrhoea outbreaks than during the rainy season, when people have access to fresh rainwater.

“With so many people taking water from the same limited number of sources, a larger population can be infected,” he said.

He added that ethnic minorities are at greater risk of dying from acute watery diarrhoea because they often live long distances from health clinics.

To prevent the illness, he said, villagers should boil water or use chlorine tablets, wash their hands regularly, defecate away from water supplies, bury faeces and cover up food so flies cannot land in it.

A 2009 report released by STRIVER, a Norwegian-based organisation that studies water resource management, linked hydropower reservoirs on the Sesan River in Vietnam to high levels of toxic algae and bacteria found downstream in Ratanakkiri and said that by WHO standards the water was unfit for human consumption.

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