I’m lucky to not be in search of surgery in the country of Cambodia, but a lot of people are. After the Khmer Rouge regime killed or exiled nearly all of the country’s doctors in the 1970’s, it’s hard to find decent medical treatment, let alone surgery, in the country. There are a growing number of young doctors, but because the older generation of doctors wasn’t present, they aren’t able to get the training necessary to complete complex surgeries. That’s where Childrens’ Surgical Centre (CSC) has become a lifeline.
Free of charge, CSC treats around 100 patients a day from all parts of the country. Patients register in the morning and are given a consult to determine if they need surgery. Generally around 1 in 5 patients requires surgery, and the rest are treated with medicine. Most of the treatments are for deformities, like club foot or cleft lip. These conditions occur in developed countries but aren’t frequently visible because treatment is easy to find and immediate.
CSC specializes in eye surgery. Cataract removal takes only a few minutes, so doctors are able to perform 20–30 surgeries a day and patients gain the ability to see and work again. For children, this is especially drastic because many have congenital cataracts and have never seen before.
As CSC is one of few surgical centers, and performs more complex surgeries than the government hospitals, patients come from all around the country to be treated here. Usually they come with at least one family member. Patients are provided beds while family members make beds on the floor or sleep in hammocks outside. CSC provides 3 meals a day, so no one goes hungry for seeking treatment.
Surgery is a unique problem in developing countries. Most global health approaches require the most cost-effective solution. When you’re looking at the whole world, cost-effective things look like paying for 500K shots at $1 a piece, or mosquito nets for 25 cents. They don’t look like $400 to fix one broken leg for a 45-year-old women in rural Cambodia. However, the impact of that one surgery is huge for that woman as she can now go back to work. The impact doesn’t stop there. She can now feed her children, who can go to school because they don’t need to work to support the family. She can contribute to the community. Her kids can become the doctors needed to fill the gaps in the current medical system.
CSC provides the some of the best surgical care because they don’t let the quality of their doctors be determined by the medical training available only within their own schools. Visiting doctors frequently come to the hospital not only to perform surgeries but to teach local doctors and leave a lasting impact.
CSC provides every surgery free of charge. However, there are real costs associated with these surgeries. CSC’s budget is around 1.5 million per year. The main source of funding comes from “White Collar Boxing”where two people with white collar jobs, i.e. a doctor and a lawyer, meet to box. Watsi, a healthcare crowdfunding non-profit, helps to fund patient care through sharing patient stories. If you’re interested in helping CSC pay for surgeries, consider donating to individual patients on Watsi , where you can see patient stories and get updates when they are better.
Thanks to the wonderful Hannah Callas for giving me a tour of CSC and explaining how the day-to-day works!