CONTAINMENT

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Malaria Myths Are Becoming a Thing of the Past

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A woman farmer in Pailin appeasing the land spirits. Pix by WHO/Chhean Nariddh Moeun

“YOU are drinking again, darling!” exclaims a Pailin villager to her husband. “Aren’t you afraid of having a stomach ache?”

“No, my dear, I feel a shiver in my backbone,” replies the man to his missus. “I am just drinking once in a while lest I get malaria.”

This song lyric from the 1970s is just one of the many myths some Cambodians have of malaria and how they can protect themselves. However, many people across the country have other more common myths and superstitions about malaria.

For many Cambodians on the move, going into a new cleared area in the forest could mean sickness – not because of malaria, but due to the belief that they have not adapted to the new land and climate. Others believe that drinking water from the stream that flows in a ‘new land’ will also make them ill. Cambodians would call this illness “Chanh Teuk, Chanh Dei” in Khmer instead of “Krun Chanh” or malaria.

Forays into the forest also have their fair share of superstitions. For instance if Cambodians have fever after a stint in the jungle, they would blame it on a spell or curse cast by the forest spirits. They would call this sickness “Chanh Neakta.”

The kru Khmer would warn his clients that they could have said something wrong and made the forest spirits unhappy. And that was the reason for their fever…

All these beliefs make the conditions of the illness worse. Instead of trying to get treated with modern medicines, people give offerings and pray to the land and forest spirits so that they are released from a spell or curse.

Some people may go to a kru Khmer, or traditional healer, who claims to have psychic and spiritual power that enables him to communicate with ghosts or the spirits.

Yeang Chheang, a 72-year-old veteran malaria worker in Pailin, explains.

“The kru Khmer would warn his clients that they would have said something wrong and made the forest spirits unhappy. And that was the reason for their fever.”

When Cambodians talk about malaria, Pailin would be on top of their conversation for being a place where people could either become rich after finding gems or die of the mosquito-borne disease.

Therefore in the early days, many Cambodians were fearful of traveling to the area in the west of the country.

Between the 1960s and 1970s, around 15,000 mostly Kolar ethnic minority people from Burma had settled in Pailin, according to Mr. Chheang, who has been a health worker fighting malaria for more than half a century. He said the Kolars had moved to Cambodia to look for gemstones that were abundant in Pailin during those years.

Whether or not the Kolars knew anything about malaria, Mr. Chheang says, they had a set of “do” and “don’t” rules to follow to avoid getting sick.

Rule No 1: Don’t take a bath at night; Rule No 2: Wear your hat when going out at night; Rule No 3: Don’t pluck and eat ripe bananas, papayas or oranges from trees. (You should eat only the ripened fruits).

“When the Khmer newcomers got sick with fever, their eating habits were blamed for their illness,’’ adds Mr. Chheang.

Another prevalent myth in Pailin involved young people. “They were told by the old people to look up into the sky when it rained, otherwise they would get malaria fever,” a malaria expert in Pailin says, laughing.

But now, myths and superstitions about malaria are a thing of the past.

“Myths and superstitions about malaria have almost disappeared,” says Dr. Boukheng Thavrin, Chief of Cambodia’s National Malaria Centre’s Health Education Unit.

Though some people still believe that they could get sick when they go to new land clearings or into the forest, she says they still sought treatment from medical doctors.

“They no longer pray [to spirits] when they are sick,” she adds.

Dr. Thavrin believes that the education campaign launched by the National Malaria Control Centre had contributed to people’s knowledge and awareness about malaria.

“Now they know how malaria [parasites] are transmitted,” she explains. “What we are proud of [is the fact that] people who had never used mosquito nets are now using them.”

Chhean Nariddh Moeun

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Written by malariacontainment

September 10, 2010 at 10:00 am

One Response

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  1. […] Kru Khmer or the doctor? […]


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