[Interview] Antibiotic resistance poses an insidious threat to public health in Cambodia. At the invitation of the Institute of Tropical Medicine (ITM) in Antwerp, Cambodian journalist Sokummono Khan was given the opportunity to learn more about this problem in Belgium.
Is antibiotics misuse a major problem in Cambodia?
Definitely. First of all, our healthcare is barely regulated. This means that you can buy medicines anywhere without a prescription. As a result, antibiotics are ubiquitous. Lack of knowledge about medicine use is the second stumbling block. Vendors do not inform their customers in this respect. People use antibiotics for any ailment, even for viral infections, where they have no effect. And in diseases where antibiotics are useful, people often stop their treatment too early. As a result, the stronger bacteria survive, becoming resistant.
How is the government tackling the problem?
The government has already taken action. They are trying to restrict the sale of antibiotics without a prescription. But it is such a widespread problem that it will not be easy. Even if some vendors do follow the rules, customers can always go somewhere else. Although there is a dawning realisation that things need to change. In cooperation with NGOs, the government launched awareness campaigns in 2014 to draw people's attention to the dangers of antibiotics misuse. A change is starting to take place in people's perceptions, and a desire for reformed health care is emerging.
What have you learned in Belgium about the problem of antibiotics resistance?
It has broadened my perception. I have learned from the experts here that it is a global but controllable problem. It can be tackled, with sufficient expertise. Unfortunately, such expertise is lacking in Cambodia.
It doesn't matter if you are a man or a woman, everyone should follow their dreams.
What can Belgian researchers learn from Cambodia?
The ITM sends experts to Cambodia and has various partnerships with local organisations, which I find important. With this fieldwork, they can investigate things that would otherwise be impossible. The evolution of malaria cannot be studied in depth without practical experience. In addition, I think that Western scientists can also learn something from the way we use traditional medicines in Cambodia. Older people in particular still practise this. Perhaps our native alternative herbs can lead to more diverse treatments or new discoveries.
What is it like to work as a journalist in Cambodia?
Many people see it as a fairly dangerous profession. That is partly true. The regime sometimes puts pressure on journalists who are too critical. But the subject I write about is different. My issues are more scientific and require more specific knowledge. That means it is less risky than reporting on politics. The way you relate the story also plays a role. You need to be flexible in the strategies you apply, and use anonymous resources where necessary.
Do you have any advice for young (female) journalists?
I don't have any specific advice for female journalists. Everyone should do something that gives them fulfilment. It doesn't matter if you are a man or a woman, everyone should follow their dreams. If you are passionate about writing, follow that passion. Everyone should do what they love doing.
Sokummono Khan is an up-and-coming journalistic talent. As a multimedia, radio and TV journalist for the Voice of America Khmer Service, she reports on stories about health, education, culture, gender, youth and politics. At the ITM, she wants to learn more about antibiotics resistance.
Journalist-in-Residence is an initiative from the Institute of Tropical Medicine (ITM). In 2018, 3 journalists from Asia and Latin America had the opportunity to broaden their knowledge on a topic from tropical medicine or global health. The ITM is an essential partner of the Belgian Development Cooperation.