Thma Bang, Cambodia (June 10, 2007):
When malaria struck all four of her children, a 36-year-old Khmer widow did what any other villager in Chumnoab would do. She searched the forest for plants and herbs to prepare traditional medicines. Without a hospital in the area, it was the only remedy available.
Today her children are healthy and malaria-free. During the past two years, they have been receiving free medical care from a clinic nurse who comes to their village weekly and provides much-needed pharmaceuticals.
Conservation International (CI) and CARE, a nongovernmental development agency, opened a clinic here in 2004 with a grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). More than two years later, the clinic – still Thma Bang district’s only – provides primary health care to nearly 2,500 people in Cambodia’s remote Central Cardamom Mountains.
Now the widow no longer uses the forest as a pharmacy. The clinic, she insists, changed her family’s life.
“Before my children were so sick they could never leave the house. Now they are able to go out and play in the neighborhood,” she says.
Giving Care, Saving Lives
Routine visits by trained staff are one of many services the clinic offers. For hard-to-reach villages, nurses travel by motorbike to visit people at home. Other basic care includes prenatal screening, immunizations and vaccinations, as well as family planning information and counseling.
On a typical day at the clinic, Nurse Tep Chham sees up to three dozen patients. The ailments he treats vary depending on the season, but diarrhea and colds are most common. Malaria is particularly prevalent from November through June. If left untreated, these illnesses may become more severe and even deadly.
Before this clinic opened, the nearest hospital was in Koh Kong about 40 miles away. However, many villagers, lacking transportation and money, could not afford to make the three-hour journey or pay for medical services.
According to Chham, who has worked at the clinic from the start, this program has saved lives.
“The health post has made it much easier for people to get proper treatment quickly, and that is essential,” he says. “People always used to treat themselves at home. Now there are fewer deaths, so the villagers are happy.”
One such happy mother from Russei Chrum village stands first in line at the clinic on a sunny Saturday morning. She has brought in her 9-month-old daughter, whose demeanor is sweet, despite a fever and bad cough. Donning a surgical mask, the nurse queried the mother about her daughter’s symptoms, weighed the baby, took her pulse, and then provided a prescription.
Until the clinic opened, the mother says she had no place to go for such treatment. Sometimes she would buy medicine at local shops from sellers who had no medical training.
“Even when the medicine was not working, the seller just continued to give it again and again, hoping the sickness would go away,” she explains. “The clinic is much better.”
Improving Human Welfare
With USAID support, CI, in partnership with local nongovernmental organizations, has implemented similar health programs in the Philippines and Madagascar.
Such programs address the critical link between conservation and human welfare. Expanding populations, particularly in developing countries, are placing greater demands on an already stressed environment. CI seeks to reduce those human pressures by improving the health and well-being of vulnerable communities. It is important to the long-term protection of forests and wildlife around the world.
“It’s a matter of making sure that people’s basic needs are met first,” says Janet Edmond, director of CI’s Population and Environment program. “This helps cut down their reliance on natural resources, which makes our conservation initiatives more effective and sustainable.”
> Feature Story: Biological survey of Cardamom Mountains
> Feature Story: Central Cardamoms Protected Forest
> Feature Story: Helping the Khmer Daeum Help Themselves
> Feature Story: Devouring the Wild
> Conservation Programs: Population and Environment
> Biodiversity Hotspots: Indo-Burma Hotspot
> Web: CARE
> Web: U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)