Last Sunday I was invited by the US Embassy to tour the USNS Mercy, which arrived in Cambodia, in Sihanoukville, the final stop for the ship’s Pacific Partnership 2012 tour.
Mission Pacific Partnership is the largest annual humanitarian and civic assistance mission in the Asia Pacific Region.The host nations for the Pacific Partnership 2012 include Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Cambodia, and the mission provides civil assistance projects (CAP) in the areas of medical, dental, veterinary and civil engineering services.
The US joint military services, interagency and civilian maritime personnel were joined this year in Cambodia by the partner nations of Australia, Canada, the Republic of Korea, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Peru and the Philippines.
This five-month mission started in May in San Diego, California, and has a staff of 1,200 US Navy medical personnel and 70 civil service mariners, focusing on the ultimate goal of being prepared to respond together in natural disasters and crisis situations.
The USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) is a medical treatment facility capable of performing surgeries on board, and with four X-ray machines and a CT scan unit on board, some of the medical treatments performed included hernias, cataracts and burns.
I trust the medical professionals on the USNS Mercy, but if I had to have surgery in Cambodia, I would think twice about it. The medical services and hospitals in Cambodia do not meet international standards and lack hands-on training of advanced practical applications by medical professionals.
Many living in Cambodia seek medical treatment and surgery in other countries like Vietnam, Thailand, and if you have money, Singapore is the destination.
It has been alleged that many of the doctors in Cambodia attend medical school and purchase their degrees, without having to intern and study for at least a minimum of 10 years in medical school.
There are some who study overseas in the US, France, Japan and Australia and come back to Cambodia to help in this much needed field, but most practice medicine in other countries.
Because of the corruption in Cambodia, many do not trust the medical professionals as well-trained physicians, and even seek medical advice in the neighbouring countries.
Medical care in Cambodia affects each and every one of us. Start by paying the doctors a higher salary, as they have to find other work to meet their financial needs.
Being a doctor is a profession, not a job which anybody can apply for. With more than one job, doctors will most likely stress out and as a result, the patients end up paying for their negative attitudes and lack of care.
In addition, Cambodian doctors should be trained by foreign medical professionals, and not just in practical applications, but medical ethics, an important element as a profession in helping people. Doctors should treat all patients equally, and not treat the poor with bad service and treat the rich with kindness and care.
It will take time for Cambodia to get to international standards in the medical profession, but in the meantime, doctors should be a little more understanding and show empathy to their patients. As another suggestion, a tour of the USNS Mercy can be a starting point for doctors training in Cambodia.
The Social Agenda with Soma Norodom
The views expressed above are solely the author’s and do not reflect any positions taken by The Phnom Penh Post.