Cambodia played host to the surgeon general of the United States Army this week, as she visited the country to observe bilateral cooperation between the two nations on health issues.
According to Lieutenant General Patricia Horoho – the first woman to hold the most senior position in the US Army Medical Department – the cross-border nature of many serious health issues provides significant opportunities for consensus building.
“When you have a commonality, something that can really help with the greater good, it allows barriers to be moved away,” Horoho said in an interview yesterday.
The United States military currently maintains two medical research programs in Cambodia – one by the US Navy in Phnom Penh and another by the US Army north of Siem Reap, which Horoho visited during her trip.
While the US military’s interest in Cambodia is broad, including assisting in the battles against HIV and dengue, and responding to emerging infections, malaria is a key focus, in part because it is the number one infectious disease risk for US soldiers when they deploy.
“We learn in this environment, which is such a high-risk environment in terms of tropical disease,” said Horoho.
The Cambodia-Thailand border is currently home to a strain of malaria resistant to some of the most powerful front-line drugs available. For Horoho, the existence of such strains, as well as the ever-growing flow of people around the region, gives global significance to regional health concerns.
“The more we have transient individuals that can carry a disease from one country to another, I think the more it makes this something that’s a world issue,” she said.
It is why Horoho says the United States is focused not only on treatment, but eradication of a disease that caused an estimated 584,000 deaths worldwide in 2013, according to the World Health Organization.
For its part, Cambodia has made significant advances against malaria in recent years, slashing the number of deaths more than 80 per cent between 2011 and 2014, from 94 to 18. It’s a fact that draws strong praise from Horoho, who says such gains are critical to global stability.
“That’s what allows democracy to be strong, it allows for international security, it allows for countries to be strong economically; your people are the basis for everything you do.”