Rights Workers Question Hospitals’ Ethics

Sat Sokun was asleep Wednes­day when a stray bullet meant for a Funcinpec general slammed through the wall of her room and ended up in her stomach.

The general, Kim Sang, was killed by two gunmen who fired AK-47s at him and then shot him in the head at close range. Sat So­kun, who said she had no involvement with the general or the gunmen, was seriously injured.

Two hospitals, Calmette and Kossamak, refused to treat her because she did not have the money to pay them, Sat Sokun’s mother said. More than six hours later, she was finally admitted to Ta Cheng Hospital on Mao Tse Toung Boulevard, where doctors charged her $200. Her mother borrowed money from friends and is paying back the loan at the rate of $1 a day.

Officials at the hospital could not be reached for comment.

Sat Sokun is 18 years old and works in a garment factory. Hu­man rights workers say her story is typical of many poor Cam­bo­dians. Some have died after being re­fused care because they could not pay.

In one recent case, a man was taken to a hospital with head in­juries after a motorbike accident, according to a human rights wor­ker. Because he was uncon­scious, doctors could not determ­ine whether the man could pay.

So he was left untreated in the hospital overnight. The next day, friends took him to another hospital, but he died soon after.

In another case, Ouk Pok, a 6-year-old boy, died Dec 25 at Kos­samak Hospital after surgery to cor­rect a neurological condition. The boy’s family said he died be­cause they did not have $48 to pay for oxygen. A hospital official denied the accusation.

Undersecretary of State for Health Mam Bun Heng said hospitals shouldn’t refuse emergency care. He was not aware of Sat Sok­­un’s case but said he would investigate. “If that is true, the hos­pital is wrong completely because in principle the poor have the same priority for medi­cal treatment as the rich.”

The government is implementing a fee regulation system, but it is not yet in place. Government health advisers have said it would cost about $12 per Cambodian each year to fund a national health-care system. They say the government spent about $1 per person on health care in 1997.

Sat Sokun’s mother, Yan Kong, said Thursday that her daughter is expected to recover. Doctors operated to repair her intestines.

Sat Sokun was awake and talking Thursday evening. An oxygen mask covered her face and blood dripped from an IV. She had a bullet lodged in her leg and a wound on her foot.

Rights workers had harsh words for the doctors who turned Sat Sokun away. “When doctors knew how serious the victim was and they still demanded payment, that could be an intentional kil­ling,” said Chan Saveth, spokes­man for the hu­man rights organization Ad­hoc. “What was the health worker doing? When the seriously in­jured victim came and asked for help, he saw money as a bigger thing than life.”

Another rights worker, who asked not to be named, said the doc­tor at Kossamak Hospital was indifferent to Sat Sokun’s condition. “The doctor asked for $200 or he wouldn’t treat her,” the wor­ker said. “Then he went to lunch. Frankly, he could not care less.”

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