by Amanda King
Individual volunteer from Illinois
Earlier this week, I spent four days with the CHAD program following up with patients who had been seen last fall by a team of doctors from the U.S.
We traveled to Kampong Cham Province in northern Cambodia, where we saw roughly 30 patients at a handful of villages. The point of our visit was to check up on those who had been referred to a hospital for further treatment — to see if they had, in fact, seen a doctor and undergone treatment.
Unfortunately, more often than not, the answer to that inquiry was 'no.' And, contrary to what I expected, cost was not the only reason why, in many cases. In fact, with free or reduced-cost treatment available at government hospitals for those qualifying as 'poor,' and private aid available from organizations like the church, cost was not even an issue in some cases.
What we found over and over was people who were afraid of seeking treatment — intimidated by the long journey it involved to a large, unfamiliar city, and fearful of the medical procedures they may have to undergo.
"My family told me if I go to the hospital in Phnom Penh, I will have to have an operation and I will die," one elderly man suffering from severe prostate problems told one of our team members through a translator.
In those cases, says Irene, team leader with Community Health and Agriculture Development (CHAD), all we can do is pray that God will take away their fear.
Even more difficult, though, are the cases where it's a child's health in question and a parent's fears in the way of a medical intervention. We saw just that as in the case of a young burn victim Tuesday, who was left with disfiguring scars across her stomach, chest, neck and face by lack of access to good medical treatment after a fire. She will likely bear those scars forever, judging by her mother's resistance to seeing a surgeon in Phnom Penh.
It's this distrust of modern medicine, I think, that makes health and hygiene initiatives like those sponsored by CHAD and Cambodian Methodist Women imperative to medical advancement in Cambodia. Even the smallest of steps — bringing a team of doctors to visit a village, teaching hand-washing and safe cooking methods, promoting prenatal care or raising awareness of local health facilities — can help introduce health and wellness to a community's mindset, and, in time, assuage distrust of lifesaving medicine.