Siem Reap Prepares for SARS Cases

A consultant from the World Health Organization’s regional headquarters in Manila traveled to Siem Reap last week to prepare the province’s international airport in the event of an outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, officials said Tuesday.

Dr Kouichi Morita assisted Ministry of Health and WHO officials Friday and Saturday to establish an airport medical center and hospital isolation ward for incoming travelers who are found to suffer from symptoms of SARS, the pneumonia-like disease that has yet to come to Cambodia but has appeared in just about every other country in Southeast Asia and killed 130 globally, said the WHO’s Dr Veronique Bortolotti.

A medical screening area was established at the airport outside of the main building in order to reduce the likelihood of spreading the disease to other passengers. Patients who fail a visual survey are given masks.

“The chance of infection is least outside,” said Dr Rod Overtoon, a Unicef health adviser to Oddar Meanchey province who is working in collaboration with the WHO. “The sun’s ultraviolet light kills germs faster than inside.”

Three doctors, two nurses and two cleaning staff at the Siem Reap Children’s Hospital have been designated to deal with an outbreak, Overtoon said.

More health officials will be trained after the Khmer New Year in techniques of “barrier nursing,” a form of medical care that requires heath practitioners to wear special protective gear and avoid coming into contact with the bodily fluids of patients, Bortolotti said.

Monetary aid, in the “thousands of dollars,” has been requested from WHO’s Manila office to fund the training of Cambodian health technicians, she said.

The number of protective masks available to Phnom Penh health workers is limited, Bortolotti said, especially since doctors must wear them to assess patients even remotely suspected of carrying the potentially deadly disease.

Overtoon said Siem Reap was equipped with enough masks. Now the biggest battle is overcoming health workers’ fear of the disease, he said.

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