Deadly Disease Hits Cambodia’s Young Men Most Often

Pailin – Round drops of sweat and the feverish chills of malaria were not enough to keep 16-year-old Rhime Roan away from the main attraction in the small village of Sala Krau here last month.

Doctors from the Battambang health department, World Health Organization, and the European Community were here to test for malaria among the children in this remote village 12 km east of the Thai border.

The doctors were examining the village children in order to find out whether malaria is endemic to the area. Rhime Roan, shivering under a towel, was also examined even though he would normally be considered too old to be included in the test group.

Rhime Roan is one of 2 million young adult males in Cambodia at risk of contracting malaria because they work as migrant laborers in the forests, military or gem mines, according to the World Bank.

Only one child and Rhime Roan tested positive for malaria, leading health officials to say that malaria transmission in Sala Krau may be confined to those working in the forests. Rhime Roan said he had just come back from a two-week job cutting trees 10 km north of his village.

Statistics from the National Malaria Center’s recently released 1997 year-end report show that 82 percent of all confirmed malaria cases in Cambodia last year were among patients older than 14. The report says the number of cases increased last year because a greater number of young adults now work as migrant laborers in high-risk areas.

In northwest Cambodia, the situation is especially severe because of reports of malaria strains resistant to chloroquine, a drug considered a first line of defense against the disease.

Jim Farrow, a health consultant with the World Bank, said the Ministry of Health will promote hammock nets among the migrant population. The long nets wrap around the hammock and can be carried easily into the forest by the migrant laborer.

The National Malaria Center plans to sell 60,000 of these nets this year with the help of a nationwide marketing program funded by World Bank credit. The $2.7 million project will promote the hammock nets with social service announcements and advertising over the next five years. Marketers will target Cambodia’s young males, explaining how and why to use hammock nets.

Rhime Roan said neither he nor his 10-year-old brother who went with him on the trip to the forest took any malaria precautions. “We slept in the forest at night,” Rhime Roan said. “We did not bring a mosquito net.”

Rhime Roan said last month that his brother was in a nearby village with his grandmother suffering from an advanced case of malaria.

Doctors gave Rhime Roan mefloquine, an alternative to chloroquine tablets, and expected him to make a full recovery.

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