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Compassionate healthcare and purposeful innovation for Cambodia’s children

Meet Dr Khann Khoeunrachana, AHC’s neurology specialist

COVID-19, Education, Health System Strengthening, Out-patient

Dr Khann Khoeunrachana is training to become a pediatric neurology specialist at AHC, so Cambodian children can have access to treatment for neurodevelopmental disorders such as cerebral palsy and epilepsy. Growing up, Dr Rachana watched her father work as a nurse, rebuilding Cambodia’s healthcare system after the devastation of the Khmer Rouge regime. This inspired her to go into medicine.

After graduating from University of Health Science (UHS) in Phnom Penh back in 2013, Dr Rachana began her medical career at AHC. She first completed three years of medical residency training, and during this time had the opportunity to work together with AHC’s Hospital Director Dr Ngoun Chanpheaktra on a study, “Cambodian Developmental Milestone Assessment Tool (cDMAT): Performance reference charts and reliability check of a tool to assess early childhood development in Cambodian children.” The cDMAT is the first-ever Cambodia-appropriate screening tool that facilitates early identification of delays and disability in Cambodian children using the Denver Development Screening Tool (DDST II) milestones modified for the Cambodian setting.

“I must say that Dr Rachana is an excellent doctor and we are really lucky to have her at AHC. Dr Rachana assisted us with research and Training of Trainers to develop the cDMAT, now used at AHC and other medical facilities in Cambodia. She showed interest in neurodevelopment since the beginning and has really developed her knowledge and skills over the years. She is the best and the true expert now,” shared Dr Pheaktra.

The cDMAT study kick started Dr Rachana’s journey as a neurology specialist, and she is now in her final year of specialty training at AHC. Dr Rachana is one of AHC’s in-demand specialists, having consulted over 2,500 children in 2021. She is currently the only neurology specialist at AHC and one of a few in the country.

In late 2020, Dr Rachana was on maternity leave for her third child and continued to show her dedication in providing neurology expertise to Cambodian children. During her leave, a baby born with seizures was admitted to AHC’s Neonatal Unit. As the only neurology specialist at AHC, Dr Rachana consulted with the newborn’s parents via phone calls and messenger to check on the baby’s progress and treatment plan. Dr Rachana worked remotely together with AHC’s Neonatal Unit by mentoring the proper practices of treating seizures in babies, such as monitoring the baby’s breathing during and after seizures, checking every breath intake, and giving correct dosages of anti-epileptic drugs.

“It is a miracle that this patient is now well. His development stage has progressed to normal like other children. I have a good relationship with the family and I still follow up on this case to this day,” shared Dr Rachana.

Although COVID-19 has limited training opportunities, Dr Rachana receives mentorship from Dr Michael Pike from the University of Oxford. Their close relationship has allowed capacity building to continue throughout the restrictions of the global pandemic. Dr Rachana communicates with Dr Pike daily via email, and conduct weekly “case conferences” to discuss treatment plans for specific patients. She hopes traveling will become easier so neurology specialists from abroad can visit her again for in-person training and mentoring.

Although in high demand, pediatric neurology is still a new and unpopular specialty among Cambodian medical students. The specialty is complex and requires years of hands-on experience with patients. Furthermore, as many neurological conditions are still stigmatized in Cambodian society, the neurology specialty has not been a priority for the Cambodian Ministry of Health.

“Our nervous system is so complex and I love it. I am determined to become one of the most skilled pediatric neurologists in Cambodia, so I can support all Cambodian children to grow happily and healthily. I want to show my juniors and the future of Cambodia’s medical professionals how valuable and rewarding the neurology specialty can be,” shared Dr Rachana.

Ways You Can Help

Ongoing support from donors and volunteers allows us to continue to deliver high quality medical care to children affected by disease and poverty in Cambodia.