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Neighbor helping neighbor in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

David Snyder for CRS

Photo by Dave Snyder for CRS

Wrapping up the second week of my time with CRS here in Cambodia. Spent this week visiting partners conducting HIV and AIDS support, as well as health projects targeting tuberculosis and water and sanitation. After seven years living in Africa, I am well familiar with the impact of HIV in poor countries. Despite that, I still find it hard to convey the real scale and scope of that impact, especially in a country like Cambodia, which has such limited health care capacity. What that means in real terms are hospitals that don’t have mattresses on the metal frames of their beds, or in many cases even basic medications. Often, the family members of those who are hospitalized live on the hospital grounds, cooking meals they themselves purchase, depleting already-limited family resources.

Much of what I saw this week with CRS were efforts to address that directly – providing support to the hospitals and health centers that are faced daily with Cambodia’s HIV patients. I spent time with community volunteers who refer people directly from the communities and follow up – daily in some cases – with home based care. I met a Community Health Volunteer who dispenses TB drugs – one each day for eight months – to a TB patient in his village to make sure she is cured without passing it on, or making it resistant to drugs by missing dosages. I met a grandmother who lost not only her own husband to AIDS, but also three of her five grown children – as much an indication as any of impact of the virus in some parts of Cambodia.

I think what always strikes me most about the people who volunteer to help fight AIDS in small communities like those I visited this week is their dedication. They receive no pay, and yet still spend hours each day in many cases caring for others in their communities – others often avoided or shunned by poorly informed villagers. It is selfless work, and it’s making a difference for many here.

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