As its rabies plan lags, Cambodia feels the bite

A 3-year-old patient at the Pasteur Institute shows her dog bite. Hong Menea

Despite killing some 800 people in the Kingdom each year, rabies has been largely off the public health radar. Plans are in the works for a nationwide response, but can funding catch up?


When her 15-year-old daughter Thai Sopheak was bitten by a dog last month, Kat Soklim took no chances. She had known a man from a nearby village who died following a dog bite the year before, and she wasn’t going to let her daughter suffer the same fate.

Sopheak is one of the lucky ones; for the past month, she has been leaving her village in Kampong Cham’s Prey Chhor district every few days at 6 in the morning to head to Phnom Penh. Her destination is the Pasteur Institute’s vaccination centre, where she can get postexposure rabies treatment against the otherwise incurable virus.

Rabies, which is known as chkae chkuot or “mad dog” disease in Khmer, has a 100 percent fatality rate if a patient isn’t vaccinated before the disease takes hold, and it is estimated to kill as many as 800 people – disproportionately children – each year in the Kingdom. Nonetheless, there is currently no national programme to address the disease, and a lack of resources persists when it comes to vaccinating both people and animals.

“It’s years late,” Dr Ly Sowath, who is in charge of the rabies vaccination centre at the Pasteur Institute, said of a nationwide rabies strategy.

Patients wait for shots at the Pasteur clinic, which sees 60 visitors per day. Hong Menea

“The progress is rather slow in putting together a national programme compared to programs for dengue or malaria or tuberculosis.”

In part because of this, access to the vaccine – which if administered in time is completely safe and effective – is extremely limited. People are often forced to take hours-long journeys to the only trusted vaccination centres, which are in Phnom Penh or Siem Reap – a precaution they will only take if they are aware of the disease and can afford the travel.

From the day her bitten neighbour died, Soklim said, “people in the villages knew about it by word of mouth”.

“So whenever there is a dog-biting case, we hurry to the hospital,” she continued, adding that while she was offered a vaccination at her local district health centre, she did not trust it, nor did she want to pay for it. At the Pasteur Institute, vaccinations are heavily subsidised. (more…)

Posted on: August 11, 2017 4:19 am

Access to clean water in rural areas hits 50%

A young girl fills a bottle with water at a village water pump in Preah Vihear’s Chheb district last year. Hong Menea

Sen David, The Phnom Penh Post
Wed, 24 February 2016

Cambodia passed a key Millennium Development Goal milestone last year with half of rural areas now having access to clean drinking water, according to a Ministry of Rural Development annual report released yesterday.

The report also touted improvements to sanitation in rural areas, which brought the level of rural people with access to latrines, hand-washing and hygiene facilities to 46.2 per cent.

But Chray Pom, a Ministry of Rural Development department director, warned there was still a long way to go, with half of Cambodia’s rural population – more than six million people – still lacking clean water.

“In rural areas, it is hard to find clean water, because we do not have enough infrastructure and some families are poor. Some of them do not want to build a latrine,” he said. (more…)

Posted on: February 23, 2016 8:06 pm