Female surgeons save lives in Cambodia
Cambodia / Freedom for Health / 12 oct 2017
Decades on from the conflict which killed one in four Cambodians and left only 40 surviving doctors in the country, an all-female surgical team is healing a large backlog of patients and helping to build up Cambodia’s healthcare system again. The team of four ear, nose and throat (ENT) surgeons at Phnom Penh’s Children’s Surgical Centre perform complex surgeries to a global standard and help to reduce the long waiting times for patients, who for so long have only been able to access surgery from visiting foreign surgeons.
The specialist ENT team was established in 2014. First on board was Dr Davy, soon joined by three more female surgeons: Dr Sothea, 33; Dr Kim, 27; and Dr Khim, 26. Women wishing to join the medical profession still face barriers and discrimination in Cambodia, as Dr Davy explained: “When I was a medical student, I wasn’t seen as capable because I was small and female,” she said. “Our professor said: ‘Females cannot do anything, they cannot hold the endoscopy [tools], they’re too heavy.’ I know sometimes he was joking, but still, I wouldn’t always get the chance to work in operating theater like I wanted to.” However, Dr Davy and the team have now become extremely accomplished surgeons, the first in the country trained to perform mastoidectomies, an operation used to remove life-threatening cysts in the middle ear. Dr Davy’s success rate for complex ear surgery is now higher than the worldwide standard, 91% compared to 85%. The women on the team are also focused on training the next generation of medical professionals, in order to continue expanding and rebuilding the healthcare system in Cambodia.
The Khmer Rouge’s legacy means there are few well-trained doctors in Cambodia — and even fewer well-trained female doctors. For a long time, Cambodians were reliant on missions from foreign doctors and surgeons. Many Cambodians live far from reliable medical clinics or cannot afford their services, meaning something as small as a middle ear infection can become life threatening. There is currently a backlog of ENT cases in Cambodia, meaning the team’s workload is only increasing. In 2016 alone, the all-female team performed 244 operations and provided 4,824 consultations. They aim to end the backlog, to cut the long waiting times and to rebuild local healthcare capacity.