Paediatricians Bill and Lori Housworth had been working for seven years at Angkor Hospital for Children in Siem Reap and were preparing to return to the US in 2015.
Bill Housworth had moved to Cambodia from Louisville, Kentucky, with his wife, physician Lori Housworth and three small kids, while a fourth child was later born in Cambodia.
The couple are passionate about helping with child healthcare needs for poor children in Cambodia and they realized that there were many less developed parts of the country than Siem Reap that still needed a vast amount of help.
“While we were still deciding whether or not to stay, Bill had a brief discussion with [Minister of Health Mam Bun Heng] during which they discussed the health needs across the country, including Kratie province,” said Lori.
They identified Kratie as an important place to work, both because of its own healthcare challenges and because it could serve as a referral centre for surrounding areas in serious need. After further discussion with key partners and donors interested in long term commitments to improving paediatric care in Cambodia in partnership with the government, Lori said Chenla was born in 2017.
“Our founding partners, including Partners for Equity in Australia, Ptarmigan Foundation in Canada, Hrothgar Foundation and Children of Cambodia in Singapore, have been key to the continued success of our public-private partnership model,” Lori told The Post.
Chenla Children’s Healthcare works in the more remote provinces in Cambodia where there would otherwise be little to no access to emergency medical care or preventive and routine paediatric care.
“Our ability to provide high quality neonatal and paediatric care in direct partnership with government referral hospitals is unique,” said Lori, adding that “we are fully operational in Kratie and Mondulkiri provinces and have recently begun work in Stung Treng.
“Chenla’s level of emergency and intensive care was previously non-existent in these regions. We have served over 70,000 patients to date, and we aim to expand to further provinces and possibly even other countries,” she said.
Children in remote areas need medical checkups in order to diagnose and begin early treatment for common severe paediatric maladies including preterm birth, sepsis and tropical illnesses such as dengue fever, typhoid fever, melioidosis and others, according to the paediatricians.
With seven years of work in a children’s hospital, Lori said that she observed that the need for proper paediatric surgical care is also a key need across much of rural Cambodia because the most vulnerable children are often the most “hidden” children.
“By this, I mean children who are poor and marginalized. We provide new high quality services, and while they are free for those using the Health Equity Fund, it is no surprise that children with some family resources are often the first to come to us,” she says.
One of the most important tasks is to ensure children from the poorest villages with the least amount of resources are able to access care, according to Chenla’s founders.
The medical organization has been working with various organizations like Happy Cambodian Children and others as well as with schools and village chiefs to break down barriers to care.
Chenla’s medical staff are also trying to reach children who may live “off the grid” on plantations and away from traditional villages, such as ethnically Vietnamese who are born in Cambodia and have no official citizenship, indigenous peoples and ethnic-minority groups such as the Cham, Kuy and Bunong or Pnong who traditionally don’t access government services.
In addition to providing free-of-charge medical service for children in very remote areas, Chenla Children’s Healthcare is also a centre for young paediatricians to get experience and help society.
Luch Sreyleak trained initially at Angkor Hospital for Children and then became a paediatrician at Kratie Provincial Hospital close to her hometown of Snuol.
“I love working at Chenla Children’s Health at Kratie Referral Hospital care as this place allows me to be the best I can be with my skills, my passion and my knowledge. Chenla always supports me and our other staff with everything we need to improve our care for children,” said Sreyleak. “I feel so proud and lucky to have Chenla in my hometown. Chenla is a great role model for other provinces and health facilities in regards to the technical and working environment.”
Long Chinda, country director for Chenla, who has more than 10 years experience working in the NGO sector in Cambodia, said that Chenla medical staff always follow the saying “the patient is the boss”.
This means that they always work from their hearts to fight to do the right thing for the patient, even when the patient is poor or the circumstances are hard.
“We know that some people think this is not so smart. But actually, we believe it is always the right thing to do,” Chinda told The Post.
Chenla Children’s Healthcare wants children in rural Cambodia to have access to quality, compassionate care without regard to their ability to pay.
Lori said that the organization seem to be finding some success, because their number of patients continues to grow and grow.
“After opening our doors to the first paediatric patients via an outreach program in 2016, Chenla has grown dramatically and has treated over 70,000 patients, many with severe life threatening conditions.” Lori told The Post.
The hospitals in Kratie and Mondulkiri both offer Neonatal Intensive Care and Paediatric Intensive Care along with busy inpatient and outpatient units, according to Lori.
“Our intensive care unit numbers continue to grow - mostly due to increased awareness and trust in our services for more common illnesses and not for Covid patient, though we have had many Covid patients also,” she said.
Lori said that building trust within the communities they serve and providing education to them were challenges which they enjoyed having the opportunity to overcome.
“We believe the future is the growing collaboration between the government sector and the philanthropic sector to provide lifesaving care to more neonates and children across Cambodia.
“We believe there should be no exclusivity when it comes to helping children with their medical needs. Chenla is very thankful for our small role in this collaboration, and we are excited by the government’s commitments and inputs,” said Lori.