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Cambodian Breast Cancer Victim Needs Your Help

Yesterday I met a couple from Sydney, Australia who shared a distressing story with me that offers a look into the depressing state of healthcare and human rights in the Kingdom of Cambodia.

It seems the two were in Phnom Penh riding a tuk- tuk when they struck up a conversation with their Khmer/English speaking driver. The general
"Where are you from?" and "What do you do?" questions arose and the tuk- tuk driver learned that his female passenger was a nurse. Now this was great news to the driver, a young married man whom according to the visitors, takes care of ten adopted children.

Evidently, the driver's wife has a lump on her breast and he asked his new nurse friend to come to his house to have a look at her. Faithful to the Hippocratic Oath, the nurse obliged. A brief examination revealed that the driver's wife indeed has a golf ball sized growth on her left breast, and after researching the internet, the Australian couple and their new friends decided to visit Sihanouk Hospital Center of Hope in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Among the offices located there is Amicares, a charity staffed by internationally trained doctors that offers breast cancer treatment to Cambodian women.

According to the Amicares website, "Amicares is working with partner Hope Worldwide TO SUPPORT INCREASED ACCESS TO QUALITY HEALTHCARE IN CAMBODIA."

Now it seems to me that a woman who has breast cancer should be able to walk into AmeriCares, receive a diagnosis, be provided with treatment options, then become healthy and live happily ever after with her husband and ten adopted children. After all, isn't that why people donate to Amicares and their partner Hope Worldwide in the first place?

In Cambodia, a different scenario evolves. According to the couple, the quartet waited five hours among others in a holding area before visiting a Cambodian Social Services Department office located on the premises. Once inside the office, the Australian's were witness to a peculiar brand of bedside manner. The first question the Social Services Department representative asked the woman in need of treatment was "What's wrong?" "I have breast cancer," responded the woman.

At this point, it would be customary in most countries that count themselves as members of the civilized world for a staff member to pull out a thermometer or blood pressure cuff to help put the patient at ease. In this instance however, no Cambodian Social Services Department staff member went so far as to even visually confirm what amounted to an impoverished Cambodian woman's self-diagnosis.

Ignorant to the true state of the woman's health the REAL examination began. What type of examination could possibly take place if the Social Services Department never confirmed the woman's self-diagnosis in the first place? A financial assessment.

Now I realize there are only 16 doctors per 100,000 Cambodian citizens but apparently, triage at government administered hospitals in the Kingdom is performed with financial rather that physical criteria in mind. Our friend the tuk-tuk driver is well off by Cambodian standards as he earns about 20,000 riels (4100 riels = 1 USD, April 2009) per day. The World Bank states that 35% of Cambodia's population of around 15 million exists on less than $.50 USD per day. Since it was determined that he made this whopping amount each month, his wife failed to receive the piece of paper required to gain access to the Amicares facility.

However, didn't the driver and his wife support ten adopted children as well as themselves? Weren't they already doing their part in easing the Cambodian government's burden of taking care of its own people?

Admittedly, the 900 million USD that will be given to Prime Minister Hun Sen's government by foreign donors this year is a drop in the bucket, necessitating private individuals to pick up the slack and adopt ten children, but shouldn't that count for something in the eyes of the Social Services Department?

In America, people pay income tax based on, among other things, how many dependents they have. Since the diver had 12 people on "the family payroll" including himself, he's allocating about 1700 riels per day to each family member to exist on, putting his family squarely within the group The World Bank identifies.

So just how poor does a person have to be before Cambodia's government will allow Cambodian's to seek medical treatment at a government run facility from a foreign funded NGO? I can't answer that question except to say that in this instance, existing on $ 0.41 USD means people are considered too wealthy.

The point of this story is not to sit here and pontificate but rather, try to save a woman's life. If I have any of the facts wrong in this hastily written article or you would like to verify them, feel free to email Ally, the Australian nurse


Further, if you would like to offer help to the Khmer/English speaking Cambodian tuk- tuk driver and his cancer stricken wife, his email address is:

I also have his telephone number if you need it. Contact me via email at mmaster I'll forward it to you and you can speak to the family directly.

A woman none of us know will surely die if WE (that means YOU and me) don't figure out a way for her to get into the Amicares office at:

Sihanouk Hospital Center of Hope
Street 134
Phnom Penh, 12253
Phone: 02 3982571

The woman has a name however, and that fact means she is us.

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