Vanna Vanny sat waiting patiently with her sick baby daughter on the roadside outside Phnom Penh’s Kantha Bopha IV Hospital yesterday.
“My daughter has difficulty breathing,” the 27-year-old mother said, as she lined up alongside about 50 other parents with children—-some of the hundreds of parents and children to enter the hospital yesterday morning.
Ms Vanny, who scavenges scrap for a living in the city’s Stung Meanchey commune, said she turned to the hospital to get free medical help for her 15-month-old girl.
“I used to bring my daughter to a private clinic, but the doctor could not treat my daughter’s sickness. Instead, he made it worse and worse.”
It was Ms Vanny’s fourth visit to Kantha Bopha Hospital with her baby who has fallen vulnerable to serious colds and pneumonia.
There has been a steep rise in the number of parents like Ms Vanny seeking medical care for their children over the past two months, said hospital director Dr Beat Richner.
Every day in July and August, between 400 and 600 sick children were accommodated in five Kantha Bopha hospitals across Phnom Penh and Siem Reap province, said Dr Richner. More than 3,000 outpatients were seen each day and one third of new admissions needed intensive care, he said.
“All diseases have increased,” Dr Richner said, noting that children suffered all kinds injuries and illnesses including hepatitis, malaria and diarrhea. But “the biggest problem is TB,” he said.
The hospitals had 13,400 inpatients in July, with numbers up 50 percent in Siem Reap and 15 percent in Phnom Penh compared to July 2010, he said.
Kim Sophat, deputy director of the National Pediatric Hospital, also reported an increase in sick children seeking care in recent months, although he did not have figures at hand. “The amount of child sickness has increased because it is the rainy season,” Mr Sophat said.
Many children had dengue, colds, high temperatures and pneumonia, he said.
“Most people from the provinces feel more confident in our treatment than that of the provincial hospitals,” he added.
Dr Richner said that some of the increase in the number of patients at his hospitals could be attributed to better roads, bringing more people seeking care from across the country. Others are now seeking free treatment at Kantha Bopha because they are getting poorer, he added.
An already weak public health system has been undermined by its doctors also working in private clinics, Dr Richner said.
“The public health system is inefficient because nobody is there, and their private clinics are very expensive and even the quality is very bad,” he said.
Dr Sann Sary, director of the Health Ministry’s hospital services department, declined to comment on Dr Richner’s remarks.
In Srey Hol, 21, brought her young daughter from Kompong Chhnang province’s Samakki Meanchey district to Kantha Bopha Hospital yesterday to treat her high temperature.
“Here [medical care] is better than in my town,” Ms Srey Hol said, noting that the provincial hospital doctor had not been able to treat her daughter properly in the past.
Dr Richner also said that the number of malnourished children in Phnom Penh had been increasing for about a year and a half. This year, he has seen 120 malnutrition cases in Phnom Penh alone, up about 50 percent from the same period last year, he noted.
“It’s a new phenomenon…. These children are malnourished because their mothers cannot breastfeed them because the working conditions in the badly paying textile industry are so bad,” he said, noting that factories did not give any maternity leave for breastfeeding.
July saw 1,700 dengue cases, a similar number compared to the same month last year, he said, noting that the mortality rate for the disease in 2011 was 0.5 percent. “All died because of drug intoxication and wrong medicine and treatment given in private clinics,” he said.
Since January, eight confirmed cases of bird flu have been treated in his hospitals, he added.
“All severely sick children arrive in Kantha Bopha in the end,” he said. “Probably adults are dying too—farmers who nobody knows.