Yesterday we had our last Community Action Day as part of the Banan team in Battambang Province, Cambodia working for Voluntary Service Overseas. We decided to theme our event on health after identifying this as a need in the community.
For our Community Action Day, we focused on three topics: diabetes, respiratory problems and general health, encompassing hygiene, dental health, diet and excersize. We chose these topics after asking the doctor in the local health center which were the most common health problems, and choosing which ones we could help reduce by teaching the community about their causes and prevention. We added the section about general health due to our own observations when living in rural Cambodia: for instance the condition of teeth, particularly in children.
Kov Soriya talked about diabetes during our event, since she was diagnosed with diabetes just after graduating from University (you can read about her story here). Diabetes has a high risk factor in Cambodia when considering that the majority of people are lean. A large contributor to this are the high levels of sugar in a normal Cambodian diet and a poor understanding of the health problems that eating sugar will lead to. Diabetes will often go unnoticed in its sufferers, although with increasing awareness and visits to health clinics diagnosis is improving, meaning more people are getting the advice and medicine that they need.
Respiratory problems, especially acute respiratory infections, are very common in Cambodia, and can be lethal due to the combination of poor nutrition and unhygienic conditions. This is particularly dangerous for children, since 1/3 of children in Cambodia are malnourished, which puts their immune system in jeopardy when they get an illness. There is very poor air and water quality, and a very high level of pollution which can also contribute towards infection and breathing problems. The local doctor of Phnom Sampov Heath Center addressed these issues during our event.
Knowledge about general health is very sparse in Cambodia. Most people, especially in poor areas, know very little about common health problems and their causes, meaning that active prevention of disease is rare. Some people are conscious of their health, for example wearing masks to protect themselves from dust, but are unaware of potentially more dangerous things that they are exposed to daily, such as burning rubbish and plastic. Healthcare is expensive in Cambodia, and although a “Poor ID Card” exists, this only gives the person a discount rather than free access to services due to corruption in hospitals. Especially in the rural areas, people are reluctant to visit the doctor and prefer to manage their illnesses in their homes, supported by their family.
During my time in Cambodia, my neighbour had a stroke and now is being cared for by his son. Neither can afford the cost of healthcare or medicine, and due to the time-consuming nature of care, the son’s business is suffering as a result. I met a family in absolute poverty with a myriad of health problems including heart disease, breast and bowel cancer, which made the mother and father unable to work. This meant that they had to borrow money from neighbours in order to pay for their children’s school equipment and forage for food everyday.
Health is a huge issue in Cambodia due to the regime of the Khmer Rouge, who persecuted and killed intelligent and educated people whilst in power, including health professionals. Therefore there is little healthcare infrastructure left in the country and few trained doctors and supporting staff, particularly in rural areas. Educated doctors and nurses are reluctant to live in isolated areas away from the main cities, and the people are equally reluctant to visit the doctor when they fall ill due to the costs of consultation and treatment.
Raising awareness of general health is one step forward to improving people’s lives, but developing the infrastructure within healthcare and investing in the training of doctors and nurses is the only real way to solve this national issue.