Health authorities have approved a volunteer nurse training program at Phnom Penh Municipal Hospital that AIDS activists hope will revive the city’s network of infectious-disease wards.
The initiative comes at a time when infectious-disease wards—often the last home for dying AIDS patients—are wracked by staffing problems and overflowing with severely ill patients.
Starting in July, James Beard, who goes by his Buddhist monicker, Vira Avalokita, plans to introduce a one-year nurse training school in the infectious-disease ward at Municipal Hospital.
The students will be volunteers drawn from the country’s sangkha, or clergy. He hopes to begin training nine monks and six laymen and nuns in routines such as feeding, washing, lifting and medicating patients.
“This is what these municipal hospitals do not have: a labor force,” Beard commented.
Beard, who founded the Buddhist Ayurvedic School of Nursing at Wat Botum in Phnom Penh this year, found himself faced with a problem recently: He had nowhere to take a woman dying of AIDS.
Beds in the general medical ward at Sihanouk Hospital for Hope and the infectious-disease ward at Preah Norodom Sihanouk Hospital were full, he said.
So Beard went to Municipal Hospital.
“There was no one there,” he said, alleging the lackluster hospital staff had driven all but seven patients away. “The nurses are doing as little as possible because they only get paid $20 a month.”
Activists and medical workers charge that staff at Municipal Hospital have demanded payment of up to 6,000 riel from indigent patients to receive care. The practice has effectively dissuaded local hospitals and NGOs from referring sick patients to Municipal Hospital, activists say.
“What we’re trying to do is encourage referrals of patients into the infectious disease wards” from local NGOs and hospitals, said Audrey Cornish, country director for Quaker Service Australia.
The Australian NGO has provided Municipal Hospital with AIDS education and training while renovating the infectious-disease ward.
Municipal Hospital staff on Monday asserted they only charge 4,000 riel per day to those who can afford the treatment. Staff said only two patients were at the hospital on Monday.
Municipal Health Director Dr Veng Thai last week welcomed the nurse-training program, saying he has only four nurses in Municipal Hospital’s nearly 30-bed infectious disease ward, one-fourth the number he would like.
He also acknowledged that meager health worker salaries are crippling the city’s health system and the overflowing infectious disease wards.
“We have nurses but not enough nurses and not enough nurses who are motivated to take care of the patients,” he said, noting that feeding and bathing patients in the infectious-disease ward is tedious.
“You need a very motivated person to do that,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Kimsan Chantara)