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KR hospital staff were ‘ignorant and illiterate’

Takeo province’s Tram Kak district hospital was staffed by illiterate teenagers and widows, stocked mostly with traditional medicine and, in one case, a man injected with medical “serum” died instantly, the Khmer Rouge tribunal heard yesterday.

Resuming his testimony for a second day, witness Riel Son, a former blacksmith who became deputy chief of the hospital in 1976 despite having no medical training, furnished further details about medical care under Pol Pot’s regime.

He described how, lacking modern medicine, untrained medics treated patients suffering malnourishment, dysentery and malaria, by injecting “serums”, usually combinations of traditional medicine derived from plants and vitamins B11, B12 and calcium.

“As for the injections, some of the staff did not have much medical experience and sometimes there was a reaction from the injection as they pushed the liquid too early and too quickly into the vein,” the 77-year-old recalled.

Son initially said no patients died from injections, although he later confirmed his previous statement to DC-CAM, which described a villager in his commune who “died on the spot” after being injected by an “ignorant and illiterate” nurse.

According to his statement, Son also tested the batch on a rat and dog, which both died instantly.

Despite the death, nothing happened to the serum’s provider because the man had asked for the medicine and had “wanted to die like everyone else in the face of the rigors of the regime”, Son’s statement said.

The witness said hospital recruitment was handled by the Tram Kak district authorities, who favoured poor illiterate female workers, some as young as 13 years old, as they were considered less likely to betray the revolution than people who were educated.

Despite having no medical background and receiving only a month of training, Son was charged with teaching his subordinates and supervising 12 commune level hospitals.

He also helped with injections and delivering babies, the chamber heard.

Son expanded on instructions by Tram Kak’s district chief “Ta Chhim” to purge former Lon Nol officials and soldiers.

He said the orders were delivered at two meetings, one before and one after the Khmer Rouge captured the country in 1975, and directed at commune and village chiefs.

The trial continues today.

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