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Failure to diagnose: Health care on the brink of death

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A young woman is treated at a hospital in Phnom Penh. Photograph: Phnom Penh Post

In Cambodian folklore, the shaman is a being able to save human lives from sickness and disease with his magic. Today, many Cambodians look to doctors as modern shaman – with little regard for doctors’ human limitations, sick men and women expect miracle cures.

But with poorly staffed medical facilities, short of funds and modern equipment, what happens when local doctors just can’t deliver?

In an increasing trend, more and more Cambodians are flocking abroad for medical care. Chari has become a ubiquitous name among Cambodians when it comes to medical care: a chain of 215 hospitals that started in Vietnam and have spread internationally.

The poor state of Cambodian healthcare is nothing new. Wrong diagnoses and limited access to health care professionals have plagued the Kingdom for years. Failure to identify terminal illnesses and spates of unnecessary operations have become commonplace.

Dy Roth Sopheavy, 22, a receptionist at a bank in Phnom Penh, doesn’t trust Cambodian doctors after they told her she would soon die of a malignant tumour – in fact, it wasn’t life-threatening at all.

“I was told by the doctors there was a tumour growing in my ovary, and that I didn’t have long to live since they couldn’t operate on it,” she said.

Fortunately, Sopheavy got a second opinion.

“I went to another hospital, and I found out it was a benign tumour that could easily be removed.”

Pheavy doesn’t want to see the same tragedy happen to other young Cambodians, as her family was struck with profound depression and fear when they received her initial diagnosis of death.

She hopes to see the government take measures that strengthen the national health care system, and take care of citizens by double-checking imported comestibles that are heavily processed with chemicals – a frequent cause of sickness.

“Both medical skill and equipment must catch up, so that thousands of people living with disease can have hope,” Pheavy said.

Dr Chhim Chivy, a local clinic owner, admitted that Cambodia’s health care system faces myriad problems.

“We lack modern equipment because we can’t afford it,” he said. “We have doctors without certification working – there are many fake doctors – and also, even professional doctors will lower their ethical standards if it means making money.”

“The government needs to crack down on non-certified doctors and professional doctors ought to have training in ethics,” he added.

According to the Ministry of Health, all hospitals and clinics must be licensed by the Ministry. The Ministry also only allows them to work within their medical specialty.

“Some doctors do not respect the medical discipline – we can say they lack ethics, and go against the Ministry’s regulations to make more money from their patients,” an employee at the Ministry said, who wished to remain unnamed.

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