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Malaria deaths in Cambodia halved

Malaria deaths dropped by half between 2011 and 2012 — the most significant decline in recent decades, health officials have announced.

Dr Char Meng Chuor, head of the National Center for Parasitology, Entomology and Malaria Control, said on Friday that although at least 94 people died from malaria in 2011, that number declined to only 47 in the past year, according to the Xinhua news agency.

“It’s the lowest number in history,” Steven Bjorge, a malaria and vector-borne diseases scientist and team leader at the World Health Organis-ation, confirmed.

Not just deaths but all malaria ca-ses had significantly declined in the past year, Bjorge said yesterday.

The overall number of confirmed cases in 2012 was not available yesterday, but according to Ministry of Health figures distributed last month, about 63,000 cases were recorded from January through November, 35 per cent less than the 97,000 cases reported for that period in 2011.

“We’ve been working very hard over the past four years,” Bjorge said, attributing the decline to the work of village malaria workers offering free diagnosis and treatment of the disease and the wide distribution of mosquito-blocking bed nets.

Cambodia’s national malaria control program had distributed these nets to everyone who needed them, Bjorge said, noting that this did not mean that all at-risk people were using their nets.

Continued malaria control would require maintaining this high level of coverage and depend on continued funding from groups such as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which was “in a trans-ition phase”, Bjorge said.

Late last year, the Global Fund announced that as of April, 2013, it would no longer channel funds though the National Center for Parasitology, Entomology and Malaria Control due to findings of “serious financial wrongdoing”, and instead would use the UN Office for Project Services to manage its funding for anti-malaria efforts in the country.

These efforts aim to eliminate deaths from malaria in Cambodia by 2015 and eradicate the disease from the country by 2025.

Key to this goal, health officials have said, will be managing drug-resistant strains, concentrated around the Thai border.

Despite success switching drugs, the situation was “tenuous” because of the limited range of methods that could be used to effectively treat the resistant strains, Bjorge said.

Kuy Sok, director of the Battambang provincial health department, said yesterday that co-ordinated treatment was essential in overcoming resistance.

“We prohibited private clinics and hospitals selling malaria medicine to patients, so that’s why the number of cases has dropped. We appealed to the people to come and receive treatment at the state hospital instead,” Sok, whose province had just one recorded death from the disease in 2012, said.

To spread information about prevention and treatment, the provincial health department was using not only health volunteers but also taxi drivers, who frequently came into contact with migrants less likely to have received adequate education about the disease, Sok said.

Officials at the National Malaria Centre could not be reached for comment yesterday.

To contact the reporters on this story: Justine Drennan at justine.drennan@phnompenhpost.com
Mom Kunthear at kunthear.mom@phnompenhpost.com

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