Medical professionals are generous and worked day and night, volunteering to save the Cambodian people. This is the essence of a song entitled “The Spirit of the Techo Volunteer Doctors”.

Back in March 2020, Prime Minister Hun Sen called for the establishment of a group of volunteer medical professionals who would take up the struggle against Covid-19, calling it a “shadow enemy.” The group then became known as the Samdech Techo Voluntary Youth Doctor Association (TYDA). Hun Sen said at the time that it was hard to recruit people with families and children to join the fight against an invisible enemy.

The premier met with the group of young volunteer medical professionals in May and thanked them for volunteering, saying it showed their strong spirits and love for the people.

“At the time of my appeal, the Kingdom had not recorded many Covid-19 cases. But as you all know, it is no coincidence that we have succeeded in defeating the virus and reopening the nation,” he said.

TYDA vice-president Pech Chanmony, who is also chair of the Samdech Techo Anti-Covid-19 Medical Team – a working group created to study and research into medicines and other tools necessary to fight Covid-19 – said the volunteer healthcare providers for TYDA were recruited through social media, ahead of joining the Ministry of Health and the government in the fight against Covid-19.

“In just six days, 422 medical professionals had registered with the association. After the number of Covid-19 cases increased, the association recruited an additional 350, who cooperated with the ministry and treated patients in clinics in Phnom Penh and the provinces as well,” she said.

Chanmony added that by May, TYDA had grown to include 8,060 members, more than half of whom were women. The team had examined or treated 3,039,645 patients nationwide, including 6,251 who were critically ill.

Sai Chheng Lay, a former medic at the Srong Romrong Health Centre in Kampong Cham province’s Prey Chhor district, said she had volunteered to give vaccinations so that communities would be able to build herd immunity and the virus’s impact would be reduced.

She said that while inoculating the public, she was concerned about becoming infected herself, but always adhered to preventive measures such as wearing protective clothing.

“During the pandemic, medics experienced some discrimination. When I went to the market, people would speak to me quite normally – until they realised I was a medic. Often they would walk away and were afraid to speak with me,” she added.

There is no salary provided for the volunteer work, but because of her love for the profession and a desire to help the people, Chheng Lay – who graduated in midwifery in 2018 – decided to join.

“I was also afraid of getting infected, but as a medical professional I had to have the courage to help the public. I wanted them to see that if I was not afraid, they shouldn’t be either. That’s why I volunteered to do the work I love,” she said.

A graduate from a Thai medical school, Teav Sothearoth, said he wanted to serve the nation, so he volunteered with TYDA. The disease was threatening the nation – and the world – and he knew he had to do something.

“My parents and siblings were worried when I decided to serve as a volunteer medic, but they believe in me and I explained that the health ministry had taught me how to protect myself against the virus,” he said.

Tep Sam Oeurn, bureau chief of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Bodyguard Unit, helped conduct Covid-19 tests and vaccinated people. He said it was his duty to serve the people as best as he could. The work was different from his usual roles and he seldom had time to rest, he added.

“The establishment of the volunteer doctor association was a very shrewd move. The prime minister planned the group well in advance of when we needed them,” he said.

Sam Oeurn added that TYDA had played a large part in enabling Cambodia to curb the disease. Without TYDA, the existing medics could not have brought the pandemic under control.

“Thanks to the establishment of this team, our Covid treatment facilities are exceptional. The volunteers helped to curb the outbreak of cases earlier than would have been possible without them,” he added.