Fighting for the tiniest

By Beth Pollak

Children ran around, fighting with swords. Women were cooking around and among the 20 buildings. People reclined in hammocks. All the doors and windows let the breeze flow into each room.

This was not a small village. This was Siem Reap Referral Hospital, the hospital for most residents of this and the surrounding provinces.

As Jayshri, Nicole and I traveled through the hospital with our guide, we ran into no security, no closed doors, no questions. We were allowed to go anywhere we pleased and talk to anyone we wanted. Photos were allowed of the patients and rooms. We visited the ICU, post-op, and general diseases wards, but the one that hit me the most was the maternity ward.

In the room, 14 beds held more than 20 people. We walked to the back of the shaded room to talk to two new mothers. One baby was three days old with a full head of hair, happily and hungrily breastfeeding and wiggling around. At 3.2 kilos (7 lbs), she was a perfectly normal size for a Cambodian newborn.

Across the aisle, a tween girl was feeding an incredibly small infant with a tiny bottle. Weighing in at 2 kilos (4.4 lbs) after one week in the world, she was clearly premature. Her yellow skin indicated she was jaundiced. She had to have a bottle with a special small nipple because her mouth was so tiny.

Premature babies in America have a strong chance of survival — many mothers even elect to have Cesarean sections early, knowing their babies will get proper care. Jaundiced babies in America have an even higher chance. But in Cambodia — where even the basic protocol that jaundiced babies should be in the sunlight, not the dark, is not being followed at the referral hospital — these babies have even less of a chance. Today, 1 in 15 Cambodian children die before the age of 5, from ailments like dengue fever, malnourishment or malaria. In America, where these problems are virtually unheard of, around 7 out of 1000 babies don’t live to age 5.

Cambodia has made many huge improvements since the brutal Khmer Rouge regime ruined its medical system, but they still have a long way to go before Cambodian children have even CLOSE to the same survival opportunities that Americans take for granted.

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1 comment so far

  1. Eric Pollak on

    Enjoyed the article. Sad, but true we have it good in America compared to many countries.


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