Or Vandine on her book about Covid-era

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Health ministry spokeswoman Or Vandine speaks at a press conference at the ministry in March, 2020. Hong Menea

Thanks to the skilful leadership of the head of the government, as well as efforts to vaccinate citizens across the country with the “Blossom Strategy”, Cambodia was able to reopen the country and return to normal life on November 1, 2021, said Ministry of Health secretary of state and spokeswoman Or Vandine, who also serves as head of the national Covid-19 vaccination committee.

The Covid-19 vaccination campaign reached more than 100 per cent of the target population of 10 million people and more than 88 per cent of the total population of 16 million people in Cambodia, with the government currently carrying out the third, fourth and fifth dose campaigns.

With the success of the vaccination programme, Vandine has published a book titled “More than 25,000 Kilometres travelled: Mission Impossible Became Mission Successfully Accomplished in the name of Samdech Prime Minister”.

The Khmer version is 180 pages in length, while the English edition runs some 160 pages. The Post sat down with Vandine To find out how the book was written and what kind of experiences and struggles she had while on her Covid-19 vaccination mission.

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The cover of Or Vandine’s new book. SUPPLIED

What were the main motivating factors that inspired you to write the book More than 25,000 Kilometers?

As I began to write about my experiences, I recalled how I was overwhelmed and fell deeply in love with the hundreds of elderly Cambodians whom I met in person.

I had the privilege of meeting a couple in August 2021, a 101-year-old man and his 103-year-old wife who live in Tboung Khmum province.

They are great role models for the younger generation, and I was extremely happy and very proud that they set a good example in volunteering for the Covid-19 vaccine. I met a total of 149 Cambodians over the age of 100, who agreed to be vaccinated without hesitation.

What are the main objectives of this book?

My main goal in writing the book More than 25,000 Kilometers traveled: Mission Impossible Became Mission Successfully Accomplished on behalf of Samdech Prime Minister was to show the grand gestures, generosity and consideration of the health and well-being of the Cambodian people – as well as the respect for the good example of 100 year-old grandparents and the members of the public who volunteered to be vaccinated – that was displayed by Prime Minister Hun Sen, in accordance with the “Blossom” strategy. Thanks to this strategy, the Kingdom averted what could have been a public health disaster.

The book also aims to show the unprecedented historical success of Cambodia’s campaign. My journey of more than 25,000 kilometres across the country while carrying out the unique humanitarian mission on behalf of the Prime Minister also introduced me to many of the Centenarians who live in our country.

The book, which was compiled as I undertook my travel activities, has another great purpose: to serve as a document that will allow the next generation to study and understand the scale of this important social work, and the special wisdom of Prime Minister Hun Sen. No other country in the world managed to conduct such a successful campaign while the pandemic raged, but here in Cambodia, we managed to achieve it.

How many copies of the book will be distributed, and to which institutions?

I would like to place my hands together to express my deepest gratitude to the prime minister for his generous permission and funding of the publication of this book. The first print run of 3,000 copies will be distributed free of charge to Ministries, Institutions, Universities and Libraries, Sub-National Administration, Capital-Provincial Health Departments, National and international organisations, embassies, and some media outlets.

What kind of experiences did you and your team go through while implementing the Covid-19 vaccination campaign?

My team and I were very happy when we succeeded in vaccinating the public against Covid-19. Using the vaccine to build herd immunity was the best strategic choice to protect the vast majority of all Cambodians – and foreigners living legally in Cambodia – from being attacked by the virus.

I was encouraged by the Prime Minister to act quickly and decisively to achieve the national goals we set in this important work. We could not be weak in our struggle against the virus, and also had to deal with false information, the so-called “infodemic” that occurred in Cambodia and abroad.

Trying to monitor the status of Covid-19 infections around the world and continuously interacting with the Cambodian people required me to devote a lot of time (almost 24 hours a day) for almost 2 years, without resting day or night. I was deeply concerned about the crisis and was afraid to neglect any aspect of the campaign.

What were the factors that motivated you and your team to implement the “Blossom Strategy” to vaccinate people and achieve the desired results before the deadline?

“Blossom” is the strategy for the Covid-19 vaccination process in Cambodia. It was initiated by Hun Sen, the prime minister of Cambodia, after he established the Commission for the Covid-19 Vaccination in the National Framework in mid-March 2021, led by myself.

In order to encourage people to come forward and receive vaccinations, we rewarded the millionth person to be vaccinated. The prime minister donated 10 million riel, along with food kits, as prizes. This was part of the millionth Covid-19 vaccination reward, and the Awards of Love, which were gifted to those participants who were over 100 years old.

One of my main missions was to identify the recipients of the awards, welcome them and hand out the charitable gifts, on behalf of the prime minister.

Many people commented that it must have been hard work, and an almost impossible task, as I met many obstacles in locating each individual. I travelled long distances, but the most challenging aspect was reaching remote areas across the country – and all at the risk of contracting Covid-19.

After traveling a total distance of more than 25,000km across all 25 capital and provinces, often departing before sunrise and almost always returning home after dark, I think it was my determination and perseverance – and the importance of the work – that enabled me to complete the task. At last, however, the impossible Mission became one which we accomplished successfully.

It was unexpected and will remain a historic accomplishment which the next generations of Cambodians will remember.

In addition, I wrote an article on the Covid-19 vaccination in Cambodia, which was published in the ASEAN / August / September issue of Insider View (ASEAN). This told the success story of our campaign. At the time the article was published, we had achieved over 100 per cent of the target we had set.

How many centenarians’ have been vaccinated against Covid-19 so far?

As of October 2, 2021, I had met a total of 149, of which 100 were women. There was also a 76-year-old nun living at the Sambour Meas Pagoda, Phnom Penh. Her real age differed from her identity card because of an erroneous registration by the United Nations Transitional Authority, who came to keep the peace in Cambodia.

She deserved her generous gift and we thanked for her honesty about her age, and for volunteering for the vaccine. This tiring mission was successfully completed after the team gave a donation from the prime minister to the 10 millionth vaccination volunteer on November 2 last year.

What advice do you have for the public regarding the fifth dose?

As chairman of the vaccination commission, I call on everyone throughout the Kingdom to come forward and receive their third, fourth and fifth doses. In particular, frontline and key target groups – including doctors, the authorities, military, police, teachers, students, journalists and citizens aged 60 and over – should be sure to keep their vaccinations up to date.

I urge all citizens to be careful not to underestimate the threat of Covid-19. We have not had any cases of illness and death from Covid-19 for more than a month, it is true, but the pandemic has not yet ended, meaning that the threat is still global. The virus is still very active in out neighbouring countries.

Vigilance must be maintained, and we must be mindful of ensuring the sustainability of individual immunity. Strong herd immunity in the community is also a necessary factor in ensuring the sustainability of re-opening our country. I hope that the ‘new normal’ will continue for a long time, as it promotes the growth of the national economy.