About 20 leprosy patients have been treated at a rehabilitated and expanded wing of the Battambang Provincial Referral Hospital, the second hospital to offer professional treatment for leprosy patients in Cambodia.
“We have two doctors and one nurse who specialize in leprosy treatment, and in the four months since we opened, we have received about 20 patients,” said Khak Seila, the hospital’s director.
Harald Schmid de Gruneck, head of mission of the Comite International de l’Ordre de Malte (CIOMAL), said that the formerly small leprosy clinic is now fully functioning with modern equipment to perform reconstructive surgery and administer medication.
“Until this year, Kien Khleang was the only reference center for treating leprosy patients, and there are many cases from Banteay Meanchey, Battambang and Siem Reap [provinces], and to not have them all travel all the way to Phnom Penh, we decided to have one there again,” in Battambang, Mr. de Gruneck said, adding that there was no official date for the opening of the clinic, but that patients were already being treated.
Since the early 2000s, the number of leprosy cases in Cambodia started to decrease, but infections have increased again in recent years.
“In 2002, there were some 714 cases [of leprosy] and then it went down, down, down…and in 2010 we had 252 new cases. We asked if the situation is actually improving because there are fewer cases, or because due to a lack of resources and means the cases are not found,” Mr. de Gruneck said.
The number of cases had increased to 475 by last year, according to CIOMAL.
Slow-developing bacteria transmitted through droplets from the nose or mouth cause leprosy.
Patients can carry the bacteria for more than a decade without showing any symptoms, Mr. de Gruneck said. Without treatment, leprosy causes nerve damage and severe disabilities.
“If you don’t get proper treatment, you can transmit it…you can be positive but don’t show symptoms and transmit it,” Mr. de Gruneck said.
(Additional reporting by Khuon Narim)