Dr. You Sophat is a busy man at Kbal Thnal clinic in Phnom Penh’s Mean Chey district. Earlier this week, the doctor was making sure his clinic had taken all precautionary measures to ensure the safety of patients.
For visiting patients, they have attempted to limit the number of people crowding the waiting area, he said, ensuring that anyone who enters the clinic washes their hands, their temperature is taken and are asked to give a brief travel history.
But, Dr. Sophat is also concerned about the wellbeing of his staff, who are receiving and attending to patients all day long.
“Before they see a patient, the doctors have to wear protective clothing and a mask. They have to clean their hands with alcohol or hand sanitizer, and so on,” he said.
And while he is focused on patients in the clinic, who are often come in worried or scared about the viral pandemic, Dr. Sophat is cognizant of his staff’s families, who are potentially now at risk of being exposed to the virus.
“Even, if we do not have any virus, we have to protect ourselves and avoid bringing it to our homes, where we interact with our relatives, husbands, wives and children,” he said, adding that he had limited physical interactions with loved ones.
“When we get home, we get out of the car, then take off our clothes. And we put the clothes in the washing machine, we go to the shower, and then we can reunite with our family,” he added.
World over healthcare systems are struggling to keep up with the uptick in positive cases, with countries like Spain and United States reporting shortages in protective gear for healthcare professionals.
Doctors and nurses have also been infected by the virus in many countries, highlighting the risks faced by healthcare professionals who have little option but to continue working in this time of crisis.
Cambodia has seen a significant uptick in positive coronavirus cases this week. The country’s healthcare system and its response to this pandemic will be under heavy scrutiny and will be put to the test in the coming weeks. There are 47 positive cases in the country as of Thursday night, with 40 of those cases being reported just in the last week.
And at the forefront of this battle against a microscopic enemy are healthcare professionals and ordinary Cambodians manning pharmacies across the country. And despite the failings of the healthcare system in Cambodia, healthcare professionals said they were trying to help stem the spread of the respiratory disease.
Standing outside his pharmacy in Chbar Ampov commune, Sour Samnang said there had been a steady increase in customers, leading him to take extra precautions when dealing with them. He understood why people were rushing to pharmacies and clinics, but was afraid of transmitting the virus to his family.
“The main thing is to always wash my hands and to [disinfect] the money I receive from customers,” he said.
The pharmacist is often asked by patients about their symptoms, in which case, he directs them to local hospitals to get a better diagnosis.
“Then, if they tell me they have a fever, I will ask them which provinces did they travel to and ask them to go the state hospital to consult with doctors.”
He was also concerned about people buying or stocking up on medicines, adding that they worried about pharmacy closures.
“They are worried about pharmacies closing down,” he said “So, they buy medicine for fevers, coughs, diarrhea and so on.”
Phnom Penh and other parts of the country have seen a shortage of N95 respiratory masks, as well as alcohol washes and hand sanitizers, with cases of price gouging being reported in the city.
Dr. Ky Sornty, director of Kantha Bopha Children’s Hospital in Phnom Penh, said they had received recently protective materials from the Ministry of Health to protect their staff. Additionally, physicians with expertise in communicable diseases were helping hospital staff deal with the viral pandemic, he said.
The doctor added that despite concerns among the staff, they were committed to helping patients coming to the hospital.
“We also have the same concern, but we have duty and responsibilities in the treatment of disease,” he said.
Cambodia’s Health Ministry has designated hospitals to treat infected individuals in all 24 provinces and Phnom Penh, even using the shuttered Great Duke Hotel in the capital to house patients.
Additionally, around 2,000 people have been trained, Health Ministry spokesperson Or Vandine said, to help deal with the viral outbreak across the provinces.
Or Vandine said these healthcare volunteers would help conduct health checkups but could not enforce government directives on safety precautions, adding that citizens needed to cooperate as well.
“Although we have healthcare people but they are only checking the health of the people, but they cannot restrict people who venture around,” she said. “Therefore, fighting the disease of COVID-19 is not only the responsibility of the Ministry of Health alone.”