An Italian Doctor in Cambodia: Professor Emidio Grisostomi Travaglini in Battambang in 1999

 

In a very interesting book, Professor Emidio Grisostomi Travaglini, uncle of my friend Marquess Vincenzo Grisostomi Travaglini, is telling about his experience in Cambodia in Battambang during 1999 Christmas. Here are his words in Italian and I will try to provide a suitable English translation.

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Christmas 1999 in Cambodia:

On 28th March 2000, Professor Grisostomi is telling us about his experience in Cambodia:

“During last Christmas holiday (1999), instead of my usual mountain holiday, I accepted the proposal for a collaboration with a hospital in Battambang in Cambodia, set up by Emergency NGO which is taking care of war victims, especially the ones wounded by landmines.

Still nowadays, years after the end of the war, the consequences of the conflicts are vivid and devastating. More than 90% of the victims are civilians: women and elders, young and adults are wounded while cultivating their fields or feeding their cattle, but above all, children, tragically caught while playing or helping their parents.

The estimation is that at least 2000 victims per month are wounded by the 100000000 landmines disseminated  and hidden in the Cambodian territory. The landmine clearance, a longterm work, which requests the precison of high-trained professionals, is slow, expensive and extremely dangerous. Unfortunately, in many zones, one must bitterly admit that this landmine clearance is done by poor ignorant people, who are obliged for the necessity of life to sacrifice one leg, one arm, etc… thus eliminating some of these criminal landmines.

To help these persons, it has become necessary to open specialised medical centres with physicians, nurses, physiotherapists and orthopedic technicians. Volunteers were called to support these initiatives.

 

 

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Once again, Italy has shown attention and sensitiveness in organising and sending help through Emergency NGO,  which already intervened in Rwanda during the genocide periods, in Kurdistan, Afghanistan and Cambodia, where I took part personally as orthopedic surgeon at Battambang hospital, in a structure which bears the name of the journalist Ilaria Alpi. The patients of this hospital were mainly victims of landmines which were located on the border with Thailand. Only in 1999, more than 1000 of them were killed and tens of thousands of persons remained handicaped and unable to earn a living for themselves hence.

Moreover, the situation was dramatically worsened by nature and the frequent rains, which on the one hand, make possible the necessary rice growing but on the other hand, when they are very heavy, the water is transporting and hiding again and again landmines so to transform ricefields in very dangerous insidious traps for local people, who are already suffering disease such as malaria, polio, aids, etc…  The country is also suffering the lack of medical staff and structures, totally cancelled by the Khmer Rouge and the only ones available are very expensive and normal people cannot afford to be cured in the right way.

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In these circumstances, the  Battambang Hospital is significantly reducing the number of landmine victims and at the same time, giving a very good preparation to surgeons and medical staff to be at the right level to deal with problematics such as poliomyelite disease ill persons, quite numerous, due to the cancellation of the vaccinations during the dictatorship of the Khmer Rouge and people presenting congenital malformations as well as bone infections. The director was Italian Lady Anna Marchesi, ICRC, who was very experienced in post-conflict situations.

The medical team at my arrival was made of one general surgeon from Kurdistan, one anesthesist from Mongolia, one physiotherapist from England, two Italian nurses and one French. We were also helped by three young Cambodian doctors and numerous local nurses. It is with them that I spent my Christmas holiday. I would have wanted to transmit all my medical skills and experience in those (unfortunately) too short days. I must admit that the hospital, although it was particularly furnished for emergency situations, allows me to cure different unexpected cases, which I already had to face in Africa for instance. Especially when the patients arrived with wounds at faces, arms and above all, eyes.

 

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For me, as well, although I was used to emergency operations, to see children and young people wounded in many parts of their bodies remains an indescriptible shock. The last patient I operated before coming back to Italy, a young farmer who lost both hands and was almost blind, has been lika a desperate SOS to stop all these tragedies.

I experienced once again that being useful is always satisfactory, even more for the one who gives that for the one who receives. I would like, however, to recall and acknowledge the collaboration, which is unfortunately always insufficient, of various organisations, such as the Italian Rotary Club, who helped the Battambang Hospital to refurbish one surgery room; or the funding given by the Swiss Rotary Club of an ICRC prothesis centre.

To conclude, I cannot not invite you to support with determination and concrete facts the campaign for the cancellation of landmines, who reduce military and above all, innocent civilians to the state of human ruins. Emergency has demonstrated to be an efficient initiative, little but significant instrument; this is why it deserves unconditional support to be more known and helped to grow up.”

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