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AmeriCares relief worker Kat Rady was recently in the slums outside Phnom Penh where AmeriCares supports Sihanouk Hospital Center of HOPE’s home-based care program for HIV and AIDS patients as well as a mobile clinic that treats many AIDS patients.
AmeriCares is the largest supplier of donated medicines for the charity hospital delivering over $124 million in medicines and supplies for Cambodia’s poor since 1997.
Every day before sunrise, elderly men and women in wheelchairs and patients wearing surgical masks line up outside the hospital waiting for it to open. About 80 percent of the patients come from the outlying provinces and many travel great distances at great expense to be treated here. They come with every ailment and health condition imaginable. Some HIV and AIDS patients too sick to make the journey are treated in their homes through the hospital’s home-based care program.
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On the day I visited, we made our way through a poor squatter community outside of Phnom Penh where stagnant rain puddles are a breeding ground for disease and there’s so much trash that you cannot escape the smell of garbage and sewage. AmeriCares sends antibiotics and topical solutions to fight infections common here because of the poor sanitation. HIV and AIDS patients with compromised immune systems are among the most vulnerable.
The mobile clinic offers primary care, while the home-based care program visits patients to provide medicines, hygiene items, referrals and education. More than 2,200 HIV and AIDS patients get their antiretroviral drugs through Sihanouk – some from mobile teams like the one I was accompanying. The doctors and nurses are out visiting patients five days a week, traveling in a vehicle purchased with a grant from AmeriCares.
For many of the HIV and AIDS patients we visited, the mobile clinic is the only way they can get medicines. For them, a simple infection we cure with antibiotics that are given out for free in supermarkets in the United States can be deadly.
In some cases, the teams treat many members of the same family infected with HIV. During one of our stops, we delivered medication as well as food to a woman with two small children who had been too sick to work and provide for her family. Without the mobile clinic, the family could not afford medical treatment. Many Khmer families are in the same unfortunate position. Over one-third of the country’s population earns less than $1 a day.
Although my visit was brief, it was uplifting to meet face-to-face with the patients AmeriCares is helping in Cambodia. I am proud to be part of the team that brings the gift of health and hope to so many.