UPDATED at 7:00 p.m. EST on 2012-12-6
The director of a medical clinic in northwestern Cambodia has been removed from his post by local health officials following allegations that he had refused to treat an eight-year-old boy who was bitten by a venomous snake and later died.
Banteay Meanchey provincial governor Ung Oeun said Monday that the Ministry of Health and provincial authorities had removed Kim Sam Ol from the Thmar Pouk District Health Center for “misconduct,” “abusing his code of ethics and professionalism,” and “discrimination.”
Through an investigation, Ung Oeun said, authorities were able to determine that the district health center was in possession of anti-venom treatment, but that Kim Sam Ol’s negligence had led to the death of the child on Nov. 29 after being bitten by a hooded cobra. He did not elaborate.
The victim Moeun Mat’s mother claimed in an interview with RFA’s Khmer Service that doctors at the center had said that the anti-venom medicine was reserved for a youth volunteer group mobilized by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s son.
Ung Oeun said it was irresponsible for the center to make such a suggestion.
“The director was careless, resulting in a loss of a life,” he said.
“This is a warning. I recently received consent from the provincial health director and health ministry for [his] removal.”
Ung Oeun said he would summon all physicians in the province to discuss the incident.
“We want to strengthen their efforts to pay more attentions to villagers’ lives without discrimination,” he said.
According to Ser Channy, the victim’s mother, doctors at the clinic “discriminated” against her son by refusing to treat him, saying that the facility’s anti-venom was reserved for the youth group mobilized by Hun Sen’s son Hun Manit and tasked with measuring land for concessions in the area.
Online newspaper CEN quoted Ung Oeun as saying that Kim Sam Ol had acted irresponsibly by placing the blame for the death at the feet of the youth group.
The victim’s uncle, Phun Nimol, said Kim Sam Ol had told Ser Channy to take her son to another medical facility located about 16 kilometers (10 miles) away from the Thmar Pouk District Health Center for treatment.
He said that by refusing to care for his nephew, the district health center had effectively “killed” the boy.
“The people put their trust in doctors, but they didn’t do their jobs,” he said.
Kim Sam Ol could not be reached for comment.
Last week, Banteay Meanchey provincial director Keo Sopheaktra told RFA that doctors at the Thmar Pouk District Health Center had refused to treat the boy because he was already in critical condition.
“He was in critical condition—he had been transferred to the hospital too late,” he said.
Ser Channy praised the authorities for removing the health center director.
“This sets an example for the future so that other children will not suffer like my son. Other doctors will see his removal and next time they won’t keep the medicine for the [Hun Sen] youths,” she said.
“Even though I offered to pay for the medicine, the doctors refused to inject the anti-venom, saying it is illegal.”
In August, reports surfaced in Cambodia about discriminatory practices against the poor in hospitals around the country, particularly in rural areas.
Minister of Health Mam Bunheng said at the time that since 2010 the ministry has worked to teach doctors not to differentiate between the rich and the poor—a practice which had led to some doctors refusing to admit pregnant women and other patients who could not cover certain medical fees.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.
CORRECTION: An earlier version said the victim's name was Samoeun Tot.