banteay meanrith village, Banteay Meanchey province – Chan Thy and her unborn twins are gone. What remains are five other children, an angry husband and questions about the quality of healthcare in rural Cambodia.
“We buried them in three separate coffins at the pagoda,” Chan Thy’s husband, Chim Saroeun, 37, said Tuesday.
“In our tradition you cannot bury them together,” he said.
Chan Thy, 42, died at the Thma Puok District Referral Hospital on June 15 of an apparent case of toxemia.
An investigation by the Ministry of Health concluded Monday that poorly trained staff at the hospital did not see the warning signs of the deadly late-pregnancy disease.
It also concluded that staff did not demand bribes from the woman or purposely neglect Chan Thy because she could not afford to pay a bribe, as was reported in the Cambodia Today newspaper on Friday.
Chim Saroeun said Tuesday no money was asked of his wife. Nonetheless, he blames hospital staff for the deaths.
“I call for the removal of the hospital’s director,” he said sitting in front of his house, surrounded by neighbors.
“Everyone who goes there can tell you the same thing: The medics there are just not interested in patients,” he said, as villagers nodded in agreement.
Chim Saroeun said that during visits to the village health center, he was told that his wife’s swollen limbs and her difficulty in breathing were normal during pregnancy.
When he was finally referred to the district hospital, he said, he was presented with an official notice from the hospital asking for $6.25 to cover treatment.
This was a large sum for the poor farmer, and he was only able to pay $5. He traveled immediately to Phnom Penh to ask for emergency funds from his younger brother and was not with his wife when she died.
His 19-year-old son Chim Sopeak was.
“That day I called to the nurse four times because my mother was panting so heavily,” he said. “Three times a nurse came and said the blood pressure was normal. Finally a male medic came and said the blood pressure was 180. Soon, my mother died.”
Chim Sopheak said no one demanded money to treat his mother, but staff seemed disinterested in treating the poor.
“Maybe if we had more money to give them they would have been more interested in my mother’s case,” he said.
Minister of Health Nuth Sokhom traveled to the Thma Puok district hospital on Tuesday in the wake of media coverage of Chan Thy’s death.
He presented a new white motorbike to staffers, warning them not to use it to carry rice but to make routine visits to commune health centers.
Nuth Sokhom said that even with skilled staff, pre-eclampsia, as toxemia is also known, is very difficult to treat, and added that skills were still lacking at Thma Puok.
To remedy the lack of skills at Thma Puok, selected staff will go to Phnom Penh for more training, he said.
He also advised staff to get the most out of mobile health teams that come from Phnom Penh to train them.
Christine Briasco, program manager of NGO Health Net in the district, said that while corruption is a problem in many hospitals, it is not happening at Thma Pouk.
“It is not surprising that people would think that is what occurred since it is not uncommon in Cambodia,” she said.
For one-and-a-half years, she said, Health Net has been distributing merit-based pay at the hospital and monitoring quality of care. And it has improved service, she said.
“At this center staff are not allowed to sit around playing cards, they are not allowed to drink….
They are not allowed to demand extra money from patients,” she said.
Chan Thy’s family, however, still wonder about her death and whether poverty played a part.
“Maybe if there were more expert nurses, my mother would not have died,” Chim Sopeak said.