New oxygen plant saves children's lives in rural Cambodia
UNICEF, supported by USAID, has installed an oxygen plant in a hospital in Preah Vihear to treat patients with pneumonia, COVID and other respiratory diseases
Preah Vihear Province, November 13 – Two-year-old Rothana is restless. He’s bored of being in 16 Makara Provincial Hospital, and keeps running away from his bed to the small children’s library on his ward, grabbing picture books. Far from being annoyed, his parents – mother Sreyhahk and father Sounoun – are delighted at his energy. Just 24 hours ago they ran through the doors of this same hospital in acute distress, with Sounoun carrying a barely conscious Rothana and Sreyhahk crying out, “please help my child!” Given that Rothana’s temperature had soared over 40 degrees and he was struggling to breathe, nurses came running, fearing the worst.
The first thing the healthcare staff did was to supply Rothana with oxygen, piped directly from the new oxygen plant that was installed in their hospital just two months earlier, with support from UNICEF. At the same time, they administered intravenous antibiotics to treat the severe throat infection which was triggering these symptoms. Within one hour, Rothana was breathing easily again thanks to the oxygen, while his temperature had dropped considerably. His parents were deeply relieved, though were glad to keep their son in the hospital for another day’s observation.
“If he didn’t get help straight away, we feared his condition would get even worse and he might die,” says Doctor Suy Keara, who is overseeing the Children’s Ward. “He was at grave risk of developing pneumonia if he didn’t get oxygen right away.”
Doctor Suy has good reason to be concerned about pneumonia, as he estimates that 1 in 20 of the children who die in his province die as a result of the preventable condition. Historically, Preah Vihear’s child mortality rates (79 per 1,000) have been higher than Cambodia’s national figures (16 per 1,000). One underlying reason is that Preah Vihear is a remote region with relatively poor infrastructure and access to basic services, where pneumonia risk factors like malnutrition and indoor air pollution are high. Until UNICEF installed the new oxygen plant, with funding support of 230,000 USD from USAID, the province of Preah Vihear had no local oxygen plant and the nearest facility with onsite lifesaving oxygen therapy was four hours away in Siem Reap.
“I really want to thank UNICEF and USAID for helping our patients with this oxygen plant,” smiles Sok Veasna, the Hospital Director at 16 Makara.
“Now, whenever there is a critical case, such as pulmonary disease, suspected COVID, or asthma, I know our team can help them right away and not only relieve symptoms but reduce deaths. Going forward, we will save more lives from strokes, pulmonary diseases, and pneumonia. I also know our patients will feel much more confident in the care we provide.”
That is certainly true for 65-year-old Vong Bobta and her children and grandchildren, who are gathered around Mrs. Vong’s bed in another ward. Mrs. Vong already lived with diabetes and hypertension and her health deteriorated to the point where one night her family found her unconscious. They rushed her to hospital, where she was immediately diagnosed as having pneumonia and provided with oxygen, without which the chances of death would have been high. Instead, by the next morning she had returned to consciousness and is now almost recovered. “I have more peace of mind knowing that they have oxygen ready here. It was quite frightening waking up in the hospital, but I’m grateful to the staff for the care they have provided and making me feel better.”
UNICEF worked closely with the Ministry of Health, the Provincial Health Department and the 16 Makara hospital staff to support the procurement, logistics, and installation of the Preah Vihear oxygen plant, following up by training hospital staff in its use. In addition, UNICEF has mobilised $5.7 million USD through ACT SFF to support procurement and distribution of additional oxygen therapy supplies for all 35 oxygen plants in public hospitals in Cambodia, including oxygen concentrators, patient monitors and other essential accessories which will strengthen the nation's healthcare system for the future and support its pandemic preparedness.
Kan Phirun is a long-time nurse at 16 Makara and a new oxygen plant operator who benefited from UNICEF’s training. He explains that in the past Preah Vihear had higher infant mortality rates than the national average but that they can now pipe oxygen directly into the maternity wards as well as emergency, ICU and surgery wards. “I think we will see much better outcomes, particularly in situations where we have to intervene, as with some Caesarian sections. Every second can count when it comes to oxygen, so I’m certain this oxygen plant will save lives.”
His optimism is backed up by the case of little Rothana. “I’m just so happy in my heart,” says the boy’s mother, Sreyhahk, with a big smile." He still has a fever but he’s started to play and started to eat. I’m just so relieved they could help him straight away, especially with the oxygen. Seeing him not being able to breathe was so frightening. But now we will be taking him home well again.