THE cholera epidemic raging in Rattanakiri is still claiming hundreds of victims,
but experts are hoping that a Ministry of Health/World Health Organisation initiative
will put a halt to the spread of the disease in the next few days.
At Post press time, the official figures were 1,184 sick and 87 dead, in what is
the worst outbreak of the disease since Cambodian records began.
Dr Jerry Pais of Health Unlimited, who is currently based in Rattanakiri, said that
four teams of specialists from the MOH and WHO were working round the clock to treat
the sick and dying, and that health education messages were being spread by loudspeaker
accross the province to try and educate the villagers on how to protect themselves.
"Some of the teams are concentrating on disinfecting the water points; others
are disinfecting the houses and areas of the sick people," he said Wednesday
evening by telephone.
"We are still finding new cases, but with our teams handing out drugs to treat
those affected, we are hoping the rate of infection will decrease in the next few
However, he predicted that the actual number of people affected was already higher
than the current figures suggested.
The source of the outbreak has been traced to a remote village, Bakalan, where the
first case of cholera was recorded on April 16. Since then, the outbreak has spread
accross at least four provinces. Lack of provincial healthcare and the remote nature
of the area has added to the tragic death toll.
Dr Eng Kunvuth, Chief of the Technical Department of Rattanakiri Provincial Hospital
said the lack of hygiene amongst the villagers was the root cause of the problem.
"They relieve themselves in the open fields and use water wherever they are.
They don't care about sanitation."
He added that it was difficult to treat a lot of the villagers as they often travelled
long distances to work during the day, so a medical team might visit a village but
find a large proportion of the inhabitants away from home.
"We're playing a game of hide and seek" he said.
Dr Kunvuth was also concerned that help was not getting to the villagers fast enough,
and said that he wanted drugs to be given not only to those already suffering from
the disease, but also to those in close proximity to them.
He said he needed 1,000 liters of serums, and 10,000 tablets of doxycycline for the
first emergency treatment, but that the Ministry of Health had provided him with
only a third that amount.
As there has been no such outbreak of cholera in Rattanakiri before, officials were
not prepared for the scale of the epidemic, and according to Dr Pais, some of the
teams that were deployed this week were concentrating on training up staff to be
able to administer treatment.
"If the spread is not halted, we're going to be very short-staffed," he
Vaccinations are available against cholera, but according to Dr Pais, would take
some time to have effect, and so are not suitable for an outbreak that is already
Dr Kunvuth said he felt that the government had forgotten his province.
"I would like to tell all the leaders of the Ministry of Health that they should
not. . . let people continue to die every day. Remember the lives of the people in
Rattanakiri are as valuable as the lives of those in Phnom Penh."