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Abbotsford doctor visits Cambodia

Dr. Chris Whittington of Abbotsford (middle, back row) recently participated in a Health Information Sharing Day with garment workers in Cambodia.  - Paula Stromberg
Dr. Chris Whittington of Abbotsford (middle, back row) recently participated in a Health Information Sharing Day with garment workers in Cambodia.
— image credit: Paula Stromberg

by Paula Stromberg, Contributor

An Abbotsford doctor recently took part in a Health Information Sharing Day for garment workers in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Dr. Chris Whittington listened to textile workers detail their health problems such as muscle weakness, headaches, skin rashes and respiratory infections and outline the remedies they had found, including the use of traditional plant medicine.

The workers piled a table with fresh herbs, diced bark, powdered vines, flowers and tree leaf clippings.

In response, Whittington, who is a clinical associate professor in the department of family practice at the University of B.C., commented on each plant remedy and questioned the efficacy of some local remedies.

“I was interested in the women’s use of the Neem tree, or Sdao as it is called in Cambodia, as a viable alternative for treating simple medical concerns such as yeast infections and tooth cleaning. I also learned that the leaves are tasty in salad or fried and sprinkled over rice,” Whittington said.

“It may be useful to keep an open mind and collaborate with people who have difficulty affording first-world medicines as they find ways to treat simple conditions.”

Whittington then gave a talk on nutrition and symptoms of vitamin deficiencies, and answered questions.

Garment workers who sit for long hours on hard factory benches were particularly interested in a sample “donut” cushion they could use to help alleviate hemorrhoids.

As a small-business idea, they were reminded that they could produce and sell their own versions of the cushion.

The Health Information Sharing Day was held by the Workers’ Information Centre, a women’s association that promotes empowerment and human rights in Cambodia.

Ninety per cent of garment workers in Cambodia are females under 30.

They earn just $80 a month minimum wage, and have been protesting for a basic living wage of $160 monthly.

Unable to afford enough food each day, the workers are undernourished, stressed both mentally and physically, and suffer from a variety of ailments.

When they get sick, they can’t afford medical visits or prescription medicine, and they rely on plant remedies.

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