Institute Trains Cambodia’s Doctors To Tackle Infectious Diseases

Pitted against microscopic enemies in petri dishes, laboratory specialists clad in white coats can be found on any given day down common cor­ridors in the Pasteur In­stitute trying to crack the battle plans of the infectious diseases common in Cambodia.

One of the 29 branches of the re­­nowned French medical institute, named after its founder Lou­is Pasteur, who discovered the sterilization process dubbed “pasteurization” and the first rabies vaccine in 1885, the facility off Mon­i­vong Boulevard employs nearly 100 scientists dedicated to preventive medicine.

Best known locally for its vaccination center and its free and an­onymous screenings for HIV/­AIDS, the Pasteur Insti­tute—backed by research grants, do­nors and its own money—is also stocked with vital public health tools in the armory of microbiology, cell differentiation and genetic analysis.

The institute’s director, Dr Jean-Louis Sarthou, said that scientists at the Phnom Penh clinical re­search center—founded in Cam­­bod­ia in 1953 and located at its re­built location for the last 10 years—work every day on testing and de­cod­ing bacteria’s DNA se­­quences.

“The mission of Pasteur is the problem of all infectious diseas­es,” Sarthou said, adding that the in­­stitute—part of the teaching hospital program linking Cal­mette Hospital and the University of Health Sciences—has a long re­cord of contributing to the train­ing of Cambodian doctors, scientists and laboratory technicians and medical students from abroad.

“These young scientists contribute to Pasteur and at same time contribute to the specialty of virology,” Sarthou said. “Our role is to offer reference, surveys and diagnosis to transfer technology to Cambodian scientists.”

One young Cambodian technician, 25-year-old Bun Thin, who works in a cell culture laboratory, said his training in collecting and testing samples at Pasteur is pre­paring him to realize his goal of be­coming a physician.

Dr Ong Sivuth, a medical doctor since 1986 and currently working as the chief of the laboratory for the virology department, said she has consistently found her diagnosis work at the institute both gratifying and complex.

“It’s very interesting to find these new emerging diseases be­cause there is a lack of information about the viruses circulating in this country,” the veteran doctor said, across the hall from a small room holding hundreds of white laboratory mice.

Testing for avian influenza—the region’s latest emerging disease, which some experts fear has the potential to spark the next global pandemic—is taking up a large am­ount of time, energy and mon­ey at the institute, according to the chief of the virology department, Dr Philippe Buchy.

“Our goal is to work closely in the field with the Ministry of Health to catch the virus as soon as possible and make sure there is no mutation,” said Buchy, confirming that there have been no positive tests for bird flu in hu­mans or animals since April.

He said Pasteur officials meet twice a week with health officials from the World Health Organ­ization, UN Food and Agriculture Organization, and Ministries of Health and Agriculture to strength­en disease surveillance systems.

Through the network of Pas­teur Institutes across the globe—from Shanghai, China to Niamey, Niger—the research community monitors the evolution of numerous diseases.

Scientists affiliated with the Pasteur Institutes through the decades have a strong record of medical milestones.

Pasteur researchers—known as Pastorians—have won eight No­bel Prizes in immunology, physi­ology and medicine, and among other medical accomplishments, were the first scientists to isolate the AIDS virus in 1983.



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