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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - French hospital boat headed for the islands

French hospital boat headed for the islands

I SLANDERS living off the country's south coast cannot get to a hospital. Now, a

hospital will come to them.

A 17-meter cargo boat carrying medicines and

15 staff will be inaugurated in Sihanoukville on April 9. It will then sail

around the islands off Koh Kong, home to 100,000 people.

Funded by the

French NGO, Medecins du Monde (MDM), the boat was purpose-built at a local

boatyard for $30,000.

The floating infirmary will go to sea for 15 days

at a time, carrying 3,000 liters of diesel and, 1,000 liters of water, and a

month's supply of medicines. These will include 2,000 antibiotics, 1,000

aspirin, 1,000 quinine, 1,000 flagyll, antiparisitic treatments, cures for

gastric illnesses and bandages.

The boat will travel among the small

islands with its Khmer team, including one expatriate doctor, three nurses, two

midwives, the captain and his crew. They intend setting up seven health care

centers which they will then visit regularly and provide with medicines. The

exact locations of the centers will be decided when they know the islands

better.

The idea was the brainchild of a French doctor, Charles Tourre.

For the past two wears, Dr. Tourre, 45, has run MDM's vaccination program at

Sihanoukville's 110 bed hospital. He inoculates 12,000 people each year against

typhoid, tetanus, tuberculosis, polio and diphtheria, as well as treating

malaria and STDs.

He said 60 percent of the province's children under

two years old have been vaccinated. MDM's program, coordinated with the Ministry

of Health, aims to provide a structure for implementing vaccinations, which are

provided by UNICEF.

From the start, Tourre realized that large numbers

of villagers on islands and in the countryside had no transport or access to

vaccination and primary health care. He suggested the idea of a seaborne

hospital to MDM's Paris head office which, with funding from France and the

European Union, oversees 150 medical aid projects world-wide. Director Bernard

Grangeon agreed immediately.

"The idea was the realization of a dream,"

explained Tourre. "I love boats. I grew up in Bandol, near Marseilles. and spent

my youth sailing and looking after people's boats, in between my studies in

medicine."

He worked in Africa before arriving in Cambodia two years ago

with his wife Danielle, a pharmacist, and his 14-year-old son Romain. He will

supervise MDM's program here for another three years, and has been joined by a

second doctor, Bernard Pere.

Tourre organized the entire building of the

boat, in local Hopea wood, and construction of a small wharf situated in the

port's free trade zone where it will be docked. Twelve builders are currently

working on the two-story vessel. The propeller and steering wheel were bought in

Vietnam. Refrigerators for storing medicine will be installed.

There are

rough seas around Koh Kong during the rainy season, but Tourre said the vessel

would not travel in storms or dangerous conditions. Staff will have to have good

sea legs, he added... "It's no good sending medical staff who are going to be

seasick."

Sihanoukville's governor, Thoam Bun Sron, has helped the

project with transport facilities and administrative support, said

Tourre.

MDM also provided a bell at the small Christian church on a hill

overlooking the port in Sihanoukville. It was donated by the town of Barcelonet

in the Hautes Alpes in France. and shipped to Cambodia with medical

supplies.

MDM's head office is at the Calmette hospital, under the

directorship of Jean-Claude Prandy. In addition to their other aid projects in

Sisophon and Mondulkiri, MDM have stated another floating hospital on the Tonle

Sap, in conjunction with UNHCR.

On March 8, their 17-meter boat, carrying

a month's supply of vaccinations and medicine, set sail for the first time. It

will go every 15 days down to Chrey Thom on the Vietnamese border to treat the

2,500 refugees living on 450 boats. On board for the three-day journey, which is

approximately 100 kilometers each way, are an expatriate and a Khmer doctor and

two nurses.

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