koh puolo wai, Koh Kong province – On Cambodia’s most distant military base, soldiers sit on the island’s picture-perfect shores and fight off their No 1 enemy: malaria.
“We have all had malaria,” said 18-year-old Ung Dy, an RCAF soldier stationed on the island.
He was one of nine soldiers who tested positive for malaria on a recent health tour of island naval bases by the Ministry of Health’s National Malaria Center.
Koh Puolo Wai base, 120 km from Sihanoukville on the Gulf of Thailand, is just one of many military bases whose residents spend much of their time recovering from the mosquito-borne disease.
Malaria is one of the most severe health problems for the Cambodian armed services, military health officers said.
In 1997, more than 11,000 cases of malaria were recorded in the military, according to a report from the health department of the Ministry of Defense. About 60 percent of in-patients in military hospitals and infirmaries are suffering from malaria, the report stated.
Medical officers blamed the high rates of malaria on the remote locations of military bases and a lack of medical resources, including mosquito nets for soldiers.
Most of the soldiers are treated by a medical officer on the island, said Nom Van Kay, the chief commander of Koh Puolo Wai naval base. But they suffer from a serious lack of medicine and diagnostic equipment, he said.
If someone gets ill, the soldiers have to take one of their patrol boats or flag down a fishing boat to send the patient on the long trip back to Sihanoukville.
Since January, one person has been sent by boat to Sihanoukville for malaria treatment, Nom Van Kay said. The patient died at the hospital.
The disease affects the work capacity of the soldiers, said the island’s military commanders.
These days, efforts are concentrated on rebuilding. Hurricane Linda destroyed most of the buildings on Koh Puolo Wai last autumn. Malaria has slowed the clean-up process.
“The work can’t get done. People get sick, so they have no strength to do it,” said Nom Van Kay.
Last month, National Malaria Center officials visited the islands of Koh Puolo Wai, Koh Tang and Koh Rong Salen to distribute mosquito nets, test for malaria and dispense medications.
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