Cambodia Gets Healthcare Via The Net

Brian Groh talks about his novel, "Summer People," which he wrote in the upstairs room of his late grandmother's 1876 farmhouse in Lawrenceburg, Ind., April 6, 2007. The author's debut novel draws on a summer spent with the upper crust during a summer retreat in Maine.
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Patients in this remote village received medical help Thursday from doctors in the United States in a landmark project to bring health care to one of the poorest corners of Asia by using satellite Internet.

A Cambodian nurse traveled from the capital, Phnom Penh, to Robib where he used a digital camera and other testing equipment to record the information about patients. He transmitted the data via Internet to doctors in Phnom Penh and Boston, Massachusetts, to launch Cambodia's first telemedicine project.

The monthly program will be run by the Sihanouk Hospital Center of Hope in Phnom Penh, and the American company, Telepartners, which is staffed by specialists from Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston.

Doctors at both institutions studied the data of four patients, and Dr. Joseph Kvedar of Massachusetts General responded within an hour to the case of the first patient, Noung Kim Chheang, 48, who has lung problems. Kvedar said he suspects tuberculosis.

"It is expensive for the people of this community to travel to see a doctor, so they normally do not get illnesses treated," Nuong Kim Chheang said.

Most of the village's 5,000 people, who barter vegetables and other food, obtain remedies from forest herbs, he said.

Organizers hope the Robib project will be the first step of a learning process on how the digital age can benefit developing countries where neither villagers can visit doctors nor the specialists come to the villages.

On Thursday, the nurse, So Montha, flew in a helicopter to Robib, 104 miles from Phnom Penh. From next month, he will undertake an arduous nine-hour journey by jeep every month to Robib.

The town only recently emerged from decades of isolation imposed by the communist Khmer Rouge, who once ruled Cambodia and retained control over many rural areas for many more years after their ouster in 1979.

An Internet link using a satellite phone was set up last year in the village, which has no doctors, piped water, electricity or regular telephones. Its average annual per capita income is $37.

However, the Internet has provided children in Robib with computer skills. Many have e-mail pen pals around the world. A group of villagers trained in silk weaving are also selling scarves to web customers from Boston to Tokyo through the village website Villageleap

The Robib medical project was funded by an American philanthropist, Bernie Krishner, whose projects in Cambodia include a newspaper, an orphanage and a rural school-building project.

Cambodia's Health Minister Hong Sun Huot praised the experiment, noting that there is a scarcity of doctors in Cambodia, where 80 percent of its 11 million people live in villages.

"We support this kind of innovative program, but we have to remember reality," Hong Sun Huot said. "We would have to train many people in rural areas and have many compuers in many places to setup such a network properly and make it useful."

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