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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Hospital of despair awaits Chinese aid

Hospital of despair awaits Chinese aid


Though the Preah Ketoh Melea Military Hospital in Phnom Penh is getting $1.7

million in aid from the Chinese government, it is unclear how much of that money

will be used to ease the suffering of hospital patients.

A male AIDS victim awaits his fate in the military hospital, while a mine victim stands on his patch in a hospital corridor he calls home.

The funds have

been appropriated for building renovations and road and sewage improvements -

but not to help pay for drugs and medical supplies needed by the patients. The

donation illustrates the challenge of doling out limited funds in the face of

tremendous need, and opinions differ on how to best spend the money.

"If

we receive medicine, it can be used only for a short period of time, but fixing

the dilapidated building is more important for the time being," said hospital

Director Kao Try.

Clearly, the buildings are in need of repair. The

hospital, near Wat Phnom, consists of colonial-era buildings containing sparsely

furnished, filthy rooms with leaky ceilings for soldiers and their families. A

garbage-filled septic pond lies in front of one of the buildings that houses

many of the hospital's AIDS patients.

However, inside the dilapidated

buildings are patients who desperately need medicine and basic medical

supplies.

"I think that the grant should go toward the patients, but we

cannot raise the question," said Dr Om Khantey, who specializes in treating

HIV/AIDS patients at the hospital. "If the Chinese government gives us a pair of

shoes, but we tell them we want rice to eat instead, then we would not get

anything. So we will take anything they will give us."

Kikuko Hattori, a

Japanese nurse who does volunteer work at the hospital, said that the hospital

needs money in many different areas.

Dilapidated buildings and pot-holed hospital grounds.

"It is difficult to say [how best to

spend the money] because patients need medicine and they always complain to me

that they are hungry," said Hattori. "But they also need help with the building

because the toilet is broken [in one building] so people go in small pots, and

then there is nobody to clean them."

Hattori works with Asian Outreach

Cambodia (AOC), one of several NGOs providing medical care and other services to

the hospital patients. She visits the hospital three times a week to dispense

medicine and provide basic care and comfort.

Another AOC volunteer, Marie

Ens, brings fruit and baby formula to HIV-positive mothers. Together, they spend

about $1,000 on medicine and food each month at the hospital from donations and

private resources.

Ens, who has been visiting the hospital for about

seven years, bringing hope and comfort to many, said conditions had stayed the

same or deteriorated a bit over the years.

"The conditions have never

really improved at the hospital," said Ens, who has been working in Cambodia off

and on since 1961, and who has written two books on her experiences.

"The main difference is that we used to see mainly land mine victims,

but now it's more and more AIDS patients."

An on-site doctor funded by

Christian Services International cares for about 20 AIDS patients a

day.

Aside from lacking enough medicine, a major challenge for the

hospital is that there are not enough nurses to feed and care for the hospital's

400 or so patients. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that many of the

hospital's AIDS patients have been abandoned by their families out of fear and

embarrassment, so they don't have anyone to help care for them.

On a

recent morning, Chan Dava, an emaciated 24-year-old with AIDS, lay in her bed

and complained of feeling sick and hungry. Her husband gave her HIV and then

abandoned her last year, so she came to the hospital to die alone after her

family shunned her.

"It's very sad because there is nobody to feed them,"

said Hattori, who fed Dava some fruit and washed her body.

However, many

of the HIV patients help care for each other. Khun Chun Heing, a 31-year-old

woman who is HIV positive but still feels healthy, shuffles between several

rooms to help care for other patients. Hieng has lived at the hospital for four

years with her 46-year-old husband who is dying of AIDS.

Another problem

at the hospital is educating patients about how to prevent spreading the deadly

virus within the hospital. This situation is unique because though the hospital

was designed for soldiers, most of patients come from the provinces and bring

their families with them. Many patients came for treatment after losing limbs

and just stayed in the hospital for years - having babies and raising

children.

"There are about 80 couples here with HIV and they are still

giving birth to HIV babies," Hattori said, noting that they often dispense a

drug called Viramune to pregnant mothers to lessen the chances of babies being

born with HIV.

Drugs like Viramune and the prospect of newer and cleaner

living quarters may bring some hope to the hospital's patients.

But for

some, there is still much despair. An HIV-positive woman recently attempted

suicide by drinking gasoline; she lived but suffered brain damage and now

requires the help of her mother-in-law in caring for her five-month-old

daughter.

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