There may be a need for a re-focus among international donor nations and groups with
regard to filling a gaping hole in Cambodia's infrastructure.
Here we are in the year 2002 and Cambodia is not anywhere near establishing one hospital
that meets international standards for the general population, not to mention a hospital
that can adequately care for a medical emergency that may befall tourists entering
Cambodians are dying from very treatable illnesses and injuries on a daily basis
and have been for decades. Poorly equipped hospitals with woefully trained staff
are still the norm in every province, with the hospitals of our fair capital city
also being very scary places to seek critically needed care. A quick trip to Calmette
Hospital's emergency room is guaranteed to leave you horrified at the thought of
having to depend on it and its staff in a critical emergency. This hospital is a
big name in Cambodian medicine, and unfortunately things get no better as one examines
the options for critical care. No ax to grind here, and sorry Calmette that I picked
you out of the bunch, but you are an awful place (hygiene, equipment, staff training).
Of course we are all aware of the fact that the current situation stems from the
policies of the Khmer Rouge government of the 1970s. But as mentioned, this is 2002
and the country is still far from having one hospital that meets international standards.
The small well-to-do class is lucky enough to have the option of going to neighboring
Thailand or more far-away countries for treatment, but even these lucky ones can
encounter the occasional
injury or illness that won't wait on the travel time involved in getting to these
places. The vast majority of Cambodians are too poor to have those options.
The government is well aware that tourism is the top currency earner. But with this
boom comes a responsibility of having infrastructure in place to care for these people
if a need arises. There is a need to do more than simply dispense the all-exposing
standard advice which is still given to tourists coming here: "If you have a
medical problem that requires immediate attention, Get to Thailand as Quickly as
Possible." Gee whiz, why not just stay in Thailand.
Problem solving- NGOs could certainly study this for years and after reading this,
a few new organizations may just be created.
Here's a suggestion: Neighboring Thailand is truly blessed with a very well equipped
network of provincial hospitals and even more impressive is the level of quality
for training doctors and supporting staff. ·How about getting those big boys
who could possibly stand to do something really good for Cambodia like the US, China
and France for starters, to ante-up for a Cambodia medical fund. The fund could be
used to build, equip, and staff one hospital to meet international standards in Phnom
Penh.The fund could also possibly be used for building a new hospital (or more simply,
to better equip and staff existing provincial hospitals) in every province in Cambodia.
Who are these hospitals staffed with? It will surely be a long time before Cambodia
has an adequate number of properly trained doctors and supporting staff? Possibly
an agreement could be reached with Thailand to use the fund to entice numbers of
well-trained Thai doctors and nurses to do a stint in Cambodia.
Of course Cambodia can't or shouldn't be expected to contribute anything to this
fund. As government officials point out, they are much too poor a country for that.
Hey, forget that thought - it just wouldn't be fair play if someone were to point
to the fat bank accounts, fancy homes, cars, suits
and stylishly-expensive mobile phones of certain folks.
Donor nations: would you like a suggestion for where part of the funds could possibly
come from? How about a diversion from the road improvement funds to the hospital
fund? As reported recently in the Post, the nice, smooth new roads being built -
coupled with the chaotic driving habits in Cambodia - have caused the number of serious
injury and fatality accidents to skyrocket. Since folks no longer have bomb craters
and chuckholes to contend with (which had served the purpose of keeping them at a
slow speed), their travel speed is deadlier when they predictably do crunch into
What was thought to be much needed in Cambodia - decent roads for the locals to cut
down on travel time for moving themselves and their goods about - has brought us
back to square one.
- Matt Jacobson, Phnom Penh