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Compassionate healthcare and purposeful innovation for Cambodia’s children

Working on the frontline for over 20 years

AHC News, COVID-19, Nursing

As health systems around the world struggle to cope with the coronavirus pandemic, here at AHC we are continuing our fight to improve child health in Cambodia. We are taking this opportunity to look back on our history and the frontline staff who have been the backbone of the organisation for over 20 years.

Mrs Sinn Chhomrath, AHC’s Deputy Nursing Director, has been on the frontlines at AHC since the hospital opened its doors in 1999. She grew up during the years of the Khmer Rouge and the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia, witnessing first-hand the fighting and atrocities that occurred. As a young woman then, she assisted different medical teams by getting food, running supplies, and bandaging wounded soldiers, “I was not afraid of blood and was eager to help,” Chhomrath recalls. From then on, she knew she wanted to become a nurse, despite the fact that her mother did not approve.

Chhomrath (pictured centre) with AHC’s original nursing staff and former Executive Director Jon Morgan, in front of AHC’s outpatient department under construction in 1998.

In the beginning, AHC was just one building, one open space, and the staff only saw out- patients. The first day there were only 13 patients who visited the hospital.

“In the early days the staff, both nurses and doctors, did all of the jobs around the hospital. We even painted the beds and made covers for them. For patient records we wrote on small squares of paper and stuck these on a spindle so we could keep track of numbers and medical information. All the staff worked together as a team and our reputation as a respectable organisation grew by word of mouth throughout the community.” – Chhomrath

In the following years, AHC expanded to include an Emergency Room and Operating Theatre to treat critically ill patients. However, these new departments lacked the equipment needed to cope with the growing number of diseases and infections that AHC was treating. There were no mechanical ventilators in the hospital. Instead, oxygen was delivered to patients by bag and mask technique or “bagging.” This required staff to remain bedside, often staying up all night, to save children who needed the support of oxygen.

Som Sophal, AHC’s current Nursing Director, in the Intensive Care Unit in 2005.

Chhomrath recalls losing many patients from disease and infection in the early years because AHC lacked the resources and proper equipment to treat them. The use of donated ventilators and oxygen delivered by CPAP made a tremendous difference in patient care and survival, along with on-going training from long-term expatriate volunteer doctors and nurses. Today, AHC treats over 400 patients a day, with 83 beds for the most serious patients to stay overnight, and community, education and training projects spanning across many Cambodian provinces.

“AHC grew organically like a plant – two beds, then four beds, etc. We have had many challenges along the way but patient care and teamwork have always been what got us through the tough times.” – Chhomrath

Pictured in 2020, AHC’s Deputy Nursing Director Chhomrath (right) and Infection Prevention and Control Manager Seng Soklin (left) both have worked at AHC for over two decades.

Today, Chhomrath is AHC’s Deputy Nursing Director. Like all our frontline medical staff, she is dedicated to caring for Cambodian children as her own every day she comes to work. Their dedication and sacrifice is why AHC is regarded as the standard of paediatric healthcare in Cambodia.

Our continued mission is to ensure that essential health care for children in Cambodia remains available during the COVID-19 pandemic – leaving no child unwell.

Thank you to long-time volunteer Nancy Storrow, who interviewed and profiled AHC’s veteran staff.

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.