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
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
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.
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
Sihanoukville's governor, Thoam Bun Sron, has helped the
project with transport facilities and administrative support, said
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
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