At least 800 indigenous and Khmer villagers traveled from throughout Ratanakkiri province on Thursday and Friday, some by boat, to see doctors visiting from the USNS Mercy that docked in Sihanoukville port this week, officials said.
The medical personnel are part of a mission spearheaded by the Mercy, a US hospital ship carrying more than 1,000 doctors, engineers and aid workers who are providing locals with free medical care and other services during a two-week mission in Cambodia. The ship arrived on Tuesday and will depart June 28.
A medical team from the Mercy arrived on Thursday in Ratanakkiri for a four-day visit, giving health check-ups and eye examinations among other medical services, said Voeun Sai district governor Chum Ngel, who added that the rare opportunity for free treatment has drawn a sizable turnout.
“Indigenous villagers crowded in long lines waiting for health checks…. Some had traveled by small boats and from other districts around the province hoping to get better treatment free of charge,” the governor said.
John Johnson, spokesman for the US Embassy, said that the Mercy’s focus is Preah Sihanouk province, where the Mercy is docked. But several medical teams with at least 12 doctors and more than 15 support staff each are traveling in Ratanakkiri, Kompong Cham, Kompong Speu, and Kampot provinces with a range of services, including dentistry and eye care, he said.
In determining which areas to visit “there was a focus on more remote rural areas where they don’t have direct access to medical clinics and basic health care,” Mr Johnson said.
Dr Heng Kheng, health services director of the NGO Population Services International, said PSI is joining the ship’s medical teams in Kampot, Kompong Cham and Ratanakkiri. PSI teams are acting as interpreters and educating villagers about reproductive health, HIV /AIDS prevention, and clean water use, he said.
“I don’t think we have so many doctors in Ratanakkiri,” Dr Kheng said. “What we’re doing is very effective and successful,” he said.
Romas Nak, a 40-year-old Jarai villager, said that ethnic minorities face rudeness at the provincial hospital, but that he experienced respect from the Mercy medical team. He said he suffered from blurry vision and red eyes, and received a pair of eyeglasses on Thursday from the visiting medics.
“I was treated very well,” Mr Nak said. “I can see very clearly after wearing the glasses given free of charge by the American medical workers,” he said.
Dr Chan Marann, of Ratanakkiri’s provincial hospital, said that the hospital with the help of NGOs, is increasing its outreach to minority villagers and improving his Khmer staff’s attitude toward the province’s ethnic minorities.
“There are just a few who still have bad attitudes and bad words for patients,” Dr Marann said.