Hospital provides hope to patients

The waiting room at the Sihanouk Hospital for Hope.
The waiting room at the Sihanouk Hospital for Hope. Pha Lina

In Cambodia, there are many public, private and NGO-run clinics and hospitals. Sihanouk Hospital Center of Hope is one of the best hospitals preferred by poor Cambodians. Last week Moeun Nhean, special reports editor for The Post, spent the day speaking with doctors at the hospital and Sok Buoy, public relations manager for SHCH.

Could you tell us about the Sihanouk Hospital Center of Hope, its role in the Cambodian medical sector and the type of patients treated there?
Sihanouk Hospital Center of Hope (SHCH) is a nonprofit hospital. Our mission is to provide free, high-quality medical care to the poor in Cambodia and to train the next generation of outstanding Cambodian health care professionals. We offer our services on a sliding scale – that means that cost is not a barrier to receiving care at SHCH. For those who cannot afford to pay, our services are completely free. Our doors are open to anyone, regardless of income or social status. Patients recognise the quality of care that SHCH offers, so our patients are very diverse and come from throughout the region. In fact, 60 percent of our patients come from rural areas, and 68 percent earn less than $5 per day.

Since SHCH was established, how many patients have been treated? What types of illnesses are addressed?
Over 1,300,000 patients have accessed health care at SHCH since we opened our doors in 1996. We are a general adult hospital with 25 inpatient beds, 2 operating rooms, an emergency department that sees nearly 40 patients per day, and a large outpatient department. Our outpatient clinics include specialist clinics for HIV, hepatitis, tuberculosis, women’s health, and diabetes. If there is anything we can’t treat, we will refer our patients to the most appropriate centre to receive the correct care.

Sok Buoy, public relations manager for SHCH.
Sok Buoy, public relations manager for SHCH. Pha Lina

Could you explain the standards of SHCH’s medical treatment? What conditions are treated most commonly?
SHCH utilises evidence-based practices and employs only qualified staff. Each year, we host around 60 international volunteers who are medical experts to train our staff, develop our skills and practices.

In Cambodia, there is a huge gap in chronic disease care. For example, in rural areas, there may not be a health centre where someone with diabetes can go to monitor their progress and receive ongoing education and support. That’s extremely important, and that’s why our clinics for diabetes, hepatitis and HIV are in such high demand – these are services that are very hard to find in many places.

Could you briefly tell us about the condition you have had the most success in treating?
It’s difficult to pick one particular area that’s the most successful. Every programme at SHCH is carefully planned and managed by skilled, compassionate staff to ensure that we are at the forefront of our fields. In 2010, SHCH was awarded a UN Millennium Development Prize for excellence in our response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

How can Cambodia raise awareness about health care and better living standards in the country?
Cambodia is currently in a period of huge growth and change. This is the perfect opportunity to make health care a priority in our lives, and to increase access for everyone. One of our biggest challenges at SHCH is that our patients present with very advanced illness. Many Cambodians – especially low-income Cambodians – delay seeking care. This is for many reasons – it is expensive, might be far away, and many people don’t trust health care providers. The majority of our patients have tried traditional medicine or visited an untrained pharmacist who provided incorrect treatment before coming to SHCH. Over time, these can do more harm than good, and the costs add up – people end up spending even more money while attempting to save money. The most important thing that people can do is to visit a qualified doctor early on, as soon as they begin feeling unwell. Do not wait until it’s too late.

A patient recieves treatment at the Sihanouk Hospital for Hope.
A patient recieves treatment at the Sihanouk Hospital for Hope. Pha Lina

Can you update us on SHCH financial situation? What needs to be improved at the hospital?
SHCH, like all nonprofit organisations in Cambodia, has seen a large decline in funding over the past few years. Across the board, all of our programmes are running on a limited budget, but we have adopted several sustainability measures to ensure that our quality of care will not decline. We are currently fundraising for additional funding to provide more free surgeries, and to expand our diabetes programme which is in very high demand.

How has SHCH addressed breast cancer?
We have screened 3,878 people for breast cancer since 2010. We diagnose approximately 70 or more new cases of breast cancer each year, and provide on-going treatment and follow-up. In 2016 alone, we treated 635 women with breast cancer.