PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – “Bopha tell them not to worry. We won’t leave until they have all been seen,” instructed Karen Owens, a former triage emergency-room nurse and current medical manager at the Khema Clinic.
Bopha Pich – the customer services manager – is bilingual and can translate both regular and medical English into Khmer. The third member of the team and midwife manager, Celina Szwinta pitched in to help.
The make-shift clinic – a wooden bench covered with a bit of a tarp – offered protection from the mid-day sun at the Steung Meanchey garbage dump.
It started about 11:30 with a few patients, but the word quickly spread. Soon there was a crowd and a bit of a scuffle broke out over who was the sickest and needed to be seen first.
After the announcement that they would all be treated, the crowd clearly relaxed and settled into quietly waiting. The health checks and recording of patients details proceeded at a steady pace.
The illnesses at the garbage dump are predictable: ear and skin infections, upper respiratory problems, gastro and chronic health problems such as high blood pressure and strokes. These are the result of sheer poverty and directly related to diet and poor hygiene practices.
The clinic continued, and those needing further medical care were identified. Karen called Sophea Prom, who is the nurse supervisor at the clinic on weekends. She told her that five children and two mothers would be arriving at 10:00 the next morning – Sunday – as they needed immediate attention. One in particular, was suspected of having tuberculosis (TB), as her father and grandfather had previously been infected. TB is not a disease that allows for medical procrastination.
The next appointment, four adults with varying diseases and conditions, would come on Tuesday at 10:00. As it turns out, seven insisted on going, so a second tuk-tuk was required.
Dr. Som – director of the Khema Medical Clinic – decided that it is time to “give back.” He authorized his staff to become involved with Down in the Dumps, an ad-hoc non-profit which has established a relationship with the people at Steung Meanchey.
At the ground level, Down in the Dumps projects – like the clinic – are organized by Vichika, who went to an NGO school and speaks a bit of English. Nick – the tuk-tuk driver and translator – is the project manager.
Down in the Dumps has a small fund that can cover tuk-tuk transport and medication expenses, and the clinic offers reduced rates and on-going support.
So why is Khema Clinic “paying it forward” and helping the poorest of the poor? According to Pierre Legros, the general manager at Khema, “It is our responsibility to be proactive about health development in Cambodia for those who can’t afford care. The private health sector is an important component in this process and needs to be part of these structural changes in society.”
Now that Dr. Som is aware of the need, he is doing some forward planning on how the clinic can further assist those who can’t afford treatment.