Since the Covid-19 pandemic began, Prime Minster Hun Sen has made clear his high regard for Cambodian medical professionals, referring to them as an army clothed in white and frontline soldiers who battle bravely against an invisible enemy – the novel coronavirus.
He recently took to Facebook to further express his appreciation: “In the past year, our medical specialists have taken an active and courageous part in saving Cambodian people’s lives and combating Covid-19.”
“The medical staff have spent the whole strength of their minds and hearts, staying away from their homes and families for the cause of protecting public health,” he said.
As the Kingdom strives to contain the February 20 community outbreak – which had seen cases rise to 1,914 with 677 recoveries as of March 31 – pictures of nurses and doctors treating patients with the disease have been shared widely on social media by Cambodians praising their devotion and sacrifice.
Spending both days and nights away from their families and having to wear not just face masks but layers of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) from head to toe while caring for Covid-19 patients has all become a routine part of their daily lives.
Serey Veasna, a physician with the voluntary youth doctor association TYDA, says he has to get up early and leave his family every day as part of an ongoing battle against Covid-19, with only a few hours sleep each day.
“It feels suffocating. But you must wear PPE before going near anyone who has Covid-19 for your own protection,” he said, adding that he and the other medical workers are afraid of the virus but that it never affects their willingness to work directly with patients.
A medical doctor who asked not to be identified spoke with The Post from outside the Great Duke Phnom Penh, a hotel-turned-Covid-19-treatment facility, on Mao Tse Toung Blvd.
“I don’t have any pretty pictures to post. I’ve just got this,” she said, showing where the daily use of PPE such as a visor was leaving deep red marks on her face from the constant friction.
“We’re doing this for our compatriots and the nation. We’re an army in white defending people across the country from Covid-19,” she said.
Pich Chanmony, deputy chairwoman of TYDA, said in an interview with local media that the February 20 community outbreak was keeping medical professionals busy and prompted the public to pay greater attention to their work.
“You can see our medical staff who are just taking samples here are very tired and exhausted. The work is endless and it’s not just for our team here, it’s the same for the other frontline medical workers at all the other hospitals.
“We must all remain resolute and put an end to the February 20 outbreak. I beg our countrymen to comply with health measures while medical specialists will try to do what we can,” she said.
According to Chanmony, TYDA has a medical staff of 430. They normally work from 7am to 2am the next day for each shift. They cannot go out for two weeks prior to beginning this work and must remain in self-quarantine between shifts. Some of them have not seen their wives, husbands or children during this entire outbreak.
“For frontline medical staff, it is extremely difficult. But they must endure it and they will continue to volunteer to work for our people.
“It isn’t that we’re not afraid [of the virus]. And it’s still shocking to treat Covid-19 patients who become seriously ill and need our help to save their lives. I am not immortal, but we must follow the oath we took as medical specialists,” she said.
Outside the hospital, front-line health workers can be seen working busily in the seasonal heat – still wearing full PPE – when bringing those who have tested positive or who are suspected of having contracted the virus to a hospital for treatment.
Ministry of Health spokeswoman Or Vandine says that in these trying circumstances, medical professionals have played a vital role in combating Covid-19 that tested the limits of their physical and mental strength.
She notes that it takes at least 30 minutes just to put on a full PPE suit and if they are careless about it they can easily become infected.
“I would like to express my admiration for our medical staff. We have seen that they don’t ever rest, day or night. They work tirelessly. Because of that, people have to join them in preventing this virus from claiming more valuable lives,” she says.