Malaria is no stranger to Cambodians, many of whom repeatedly contracted the disease
during the Khmer Rouge regime or while traveling to refugee camps on the Thai-Cambodian
While most Cambodians use western medicine to treat malaria, people living in the
more remote areas of the country may use herbal remedies because they lack money
to purchase medicines and easy access to medical clinics.
Pailin, Koh Kong, Preah Vihear, Ratanakiri and Kratie are the high risk areas for
malaria in Cambodia, according to the National Malaria Center, a branch of the State
of Cambodia Ministry of Health.
In 1991, 115,701 people contracted malaria in Cambodia, according to the National
Malaria Center, a branch of the State of Cambodia Ministry of Health.
There were 1,161 recorded malaria deaths in Cambodia in 1991, although the Center
says the actual number of deaths-taking into account unreported cases-could be as
high as 10,000.
"Using the wrong medication bought in pharmacies [without a prescription], or
not following instructions for medication, is increasing the occurrence of drug-resistant
malaria, especially in the western part of the country," said Dr. Itho Vuthi
of the National Malaria Center.
Because of the disease's resistance to many of the anti-malarial drugs on the market,
malaria experts are currently researching new drugs derived from traditional remedies,
such as Chinese herbal medicines.
For many Cambodians, traditional therapies were the only option if they came down
with the disease during the Khmer Rouge regime.
Sok Toun got malaria during that time in Kompong Cham province but was able to obtain
"We didn't have blood examinations or good medicine, but cloroquine and aspirin
worked well for my illness," he said.
Chandy, a businessman in Phnom Penh who came down with malaria after returning from
the Thai border, said, "I'm still alive because of traditional medicine."
"First I tried the western medicine, but it didn't do any good, and my body
was becoming exhausted," he said. A relative told him to boil up a brew consisting
of wild bamboo, domestic bamboo, heart of corn that had been preserved for one year,
and leaves from several different trees.
"After I drank several cups, I felt better than when I'd taken the medicine
before," he said. "I got well after finishing two pots of the brew."
Thoing Li came down with chills, headache, and fever six months after starting a
new job as a wood cutter in Kompong Speu province. "I never thought I'd get
malaria because I used the mosquito net properly," he said.
Suspecting he had the disease anyway, his neighbors took him to a hospital in Phnom
Penh, where he was successfully treated with prophylactic drugs.
One westerner who has worked in Cambodia for several years has had 11 bouts of malaria,
including two cases of the potentially lethal Falciparum strain, contracted while
working in northern Cambodia near the Thai border.
"I had a cerebral seizure when the malaria went to my brain-I almost died,"
he said. "For months afterwards I couldn't remember my name or even the names
of my good friends. I'd forget what I was doing from moment to moment."
That particular strain of malaria was drug resistant, so he tried both western and
Chinese herbal medicines. But during a recent relapse of the non-deadly Vivax strain
three weeks ago, he wasted no time in getting on a three-week regimen of cloroquine.
"When I go to the jungle now I start taking doxycycline beforehand," he
said. "It also helps to wear long sleeved shirts and put lemon grass on your
hammock to fend off the mosquitos."