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Sick children swamp hospital

Children sick from ingesting floodwater await treatment outside Phnom Penh’s Kantha Bopha Children’s Hospital
Children sick from ingesting floodwater await treatment outside Phnom Penh’s Kantha Bopha Children’s Hospital. HONG MENEA

Sick children swamp hospital

As flood victims surge to the capital to receive medical treatment, doctors at Phnom Penh’s Kantha Bopha Children’s Hospital say they’ve never seen such overcrowding.

Parents holding their sick children and infants line the perimeter of the complex, spending up to seven hours crouched on hot concrete before being admitted to the facility.

“We have never during the last 21 years had so many outpatients and inpatients in the month of October,” said Dr Beat Richner, founder of the hospital. “[Yesterday], there were 2,228 severely sick children … that required hospitalisation. [The day before], there were 4,200 sick children in the outpatient stations.”

Many of the mothers outside Kantha Bopha blame their children’s sickness on the fetid floodwaters.

Prak Khun, 39, said her house has been flooded for two months, and her granddaughter became sick with severe diarrhea and a fever after drinking flood water they boiled.

After traveling to Phnom Penh from Kampong Cham yesterday morning, Khun spent six and a half hours with her feverish one-year-old granddaughter waiting to be admitted to the hospital by staff there.

“This morning, there were a lot of people here; 500 were waiting outside,” she said. “We came here because it’s free to see the doctor and free for the medicine.”

NGOs providing disaster aid said that, in the 20 provinces affected by flooding, fear of disease is paramount.

“The main issue is that a lot of children get sick with the flu, fever, eye infections and especially diarrhea,” said Leng Vireak, senior manager for disaster response at World Vision. “Children are more affected than adults; they like to play in the water, but it’s dirty and unsafe, and they might drink some of the water while they play.”

In addition to a high number of diarrhea-related cases, the hospital says it’s seeing a rise in serious diseases, some of which may arise from complications when parents can’t afford to treat colds rampant in flood season.

“There are a lot of severe pneumpathias (pneumonia, bronchiolitis). Most are due to the heavy rain and the high water,” Dr Richner said. “Further, [there is] a lot of meningitis and encephalitis. These diseases can be due to the rain and the [high water] too.”

Though evacuation sites are supposed to be equipped with free care for diarrhea and the flu, disaster relief providers have found that in reality, sites are often not prepared for an inundation of families.

“I would not say that all evacuation sites have enough medical supplies and doctors,” said Vireak. “Many remote areas have too few doctors, and hospitals are available at provincial levels only.”

Even as the water levels recede, health workers urge continued caution, including taking hygiene precautions and watching children to make sure they do not play in or drink the slurry.

“A lot of children get sick, and a lot drown,” said Seng Skhim, 20, while she waited with her daughter outside Kantha Bopha. “But even when parents are careful, children can get sick.”

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