Health officials in northwestern Cambodia have transferred two doctors from a medical clinic after they agreed to pay compensation to the family of a boy who allegedly died from a venomous snakebite under their watch, but a lawyer has called for the two men to face criminal prosecution for their neglect.
Moeun Mat, 8, was brought to the Thmar Pouk District Health Center in Banteay Meanchey province on Nov. 29 after being bitten by a cobra, but according to relatives, he was refused anti-venom treatment by clinic officials who said it was reserved for a youth volunteer group mobilized by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s son.
Clinic director Kim Sam Ol and physician Ing Sopharoth were found negligent in the boy’s death after provincial officials determined through an investigation that anti-venom was available at the facility at the time and said it was “irresponsible” for the center to make such a suggestion.
Provincial health officials on Wednesday formally removed the two doctors from their posts at the Thmar Pouk District Health Center after they agreed to pay 17 million riels (U.S. $4,250) in compensation to Moeun Mat's family in exchange for a pledge not to bring a civil suit against them.
Provincial Health Center Deputy Director Le Chan Sangwat blamed the doctors for Moeun Mat’s death, saying all medical professionals must adhere to the Hippocratic Oath, which dictates that they should practice medicine ethically and honestly.
“Removing them acknowledges their responsibility,” Le Chan Sangwat told RFA’s Khmer Service.
“In the case of snakebites, we have enough anti-venom for treatment. The Ministry of Health supplies us with enough for treating anyone, regardless of their status,” he said.
“It was a mistake to act without considering this. [Their removal] is a punishment.”
During the removal ceremony on Wednesday, Kim Sam Ol acknowledged his mistake and cautioned other doctors not to do the same.
“Please doctors, do your job and don’t make a mistake like mine in the future,” he said.
But the two men have since been transferred to other clinics, angering local lawyer Pen Son Samai who said providing compensation to the boy’s family would not protect the two doctors from facing criminal prosecution.
“The provincial prosecutor must investigate this case and send it to court,” he said.
“We have seen that they want to resolve the case through compensation, but this is a criminal offense.”
Provincial prosecutor Phan Vannaroth told RFA’s Khmer Service that he is currently traveling and is unfamiliar with the details of the case, but pledged to send staff to investigate.
“Even though the victim didn’t file a complaint, the court will investigate,” he said.
Appeal to doctors
Moeun Mat’s grandmother said she was saddened to hear that the clinic had anti-venom but refused to provide treatment for the snakebite.
“I would like to appeal to other doctors not to make this kind of mistake again,” she said.
“People rely on doctors for their lives. If doctors are careless about their jobs, who else can we rely on?”
On Monday, Ser Channy, the victim’s mother, said doctors at the clinic had “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.
She said that despite offering to pay for the medicine, the doctors had refused to inject the anti-venom, saying it was “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 medical fees.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.