Minefield Cambodia

Fact-finding in Cambodia

Professor Manuel Salmeron-Sanchez from the University of Glasgow led a fact-finding delegation from Find A Better Way to Cambodia earlier this month. Manuel leads the Find A Better Way-funded project developing ‘off-the-shelf’ 3D-printed bone for treating landmine blast survivors, and he was keen to learn more about the needs of patients who would be treated with this technology, and the work of the medical professionals and prosthetic technicians who help them. Joining Manuel were Find A Better Way CEO Lou McGrath and Find A Better Way ambassador Giles Duley, and the trip was made possible thanks to fantastic organisational support from the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) Cambodia team.

The trip started off with a visit to the Siem Reap Referral Hospital and the Physical Rehabilitation Centre in the north west of the country. The team met with Mr Kao Ratha, Head of Physical Rehabilitation at the centre. He explained that fractured bones, either from landmine blasts or road traffic accidents, are regularly treated at the hospital. Often there is too little complete bone left to fit a prosthetic limb. If synthetic bone were to be successfully developed then it could allow some who would otherwise need to stay in a wheelchair to be able to walk and enjoy a more independent life. He said he looked forward to keeping in contact with Manuel and his team.

Doctor Pen Phalkun, Director of the Siem Reap Referral Hospital, spent some time discussing the work of University of Glasgow with the team and was keen to keep in touch with Manuel and explained how they could contact the Cambodian Ministry of Health.

The team moved on to Battambang and the next day travelled to Pailin where they first visited the Pailin Health Centre meeting with Dr Teng Sarath. Manuel discussed his work with the the doctor and his team and they were keen to show him some of the complications they faced at the centre. Dr Sarath felt that the work research being conducted by University of Glasgow would be of great help to not only victims of blast injuries from landmines, but also to those who suffer shattered bones in vehicle accidents.

The Find A Better Way team were then taken by their MAG hosts to Sala Krau District in Pailin Province near the border with Thailand. The border between Thailand and Cambodia stretches for 700 kilometres and landmines were laid several rows deep on both sides of the border for its full length. Following a full safety briefing from MAG technical staff Manuel and Lou donned protective helmet and body armour to walk through the area that was being cleared of landmines. Manuel was then invited to to blow up two anti personnel mines that had been found earlier that day.

The next day Manuel was taken to the Regional Physical Rehabilitation Centre in Battambang where he met with Mr Chann Layheang who managed the centre. Mr Layheang said the centre provided its services to physically disabled people free of charge and many of the people being fitted with prosthetic limbs were landmine victims. He pointed out that a lot of the equipment they had was old and they were looking to raise US$40,000 to replace it.

Later the team visited the Battambang World Mate Emergency Hospital where they met with the surgeon William Holmes, who treats blast injury victims, and his team. Manuel was able to explain the background to his research and received a great degree of interest. Mr Holmes was very interested to learn about the prospect of synthetic bone, and could see it would also be helpful for treating a relatively common condition in Cambodia called chronic osteomyelitis which often results in dead or infected bone tissue that can lead to amputation.

After Manuel left for his flight back to Glasgow, Lou continued on, visiting other important parts of the demining community in Cambodia, including MAG’s Emergency Response, Explosive Ordnance Disposal Team, Mechanical Teams for cutting away vegetation, the Mine Detection Dogs run by the government agency Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC), and MAG Risk Education.

The trip was hard work, but was very successful. Find A Better Way would like to thank in particular Rotha Buth and Thoeun Thor from MAG Cambodia who organised the trip and accompanied the Find A Better Way team throughout.