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Friday, May 01, 2009

Cambodia plagued by epidemic of drug-resistant conjunctivitis

Written by Nathan Green

Ophthalmogists say they are keeping their eyes on a strain of the ailment that is proving particularly resistant to routine antibiotics

AN eye health specialist from the Ministry of Health warned Thursday that people suffering from a particularly tough-to-treat strain of conjunctivitis sweeping Cambodia should seek medical help rather than trying to cure it using over-the-counter medications.

Do Seiha, the coordinator of Cambodia's national eye care program and the resident ophthalmologist at Phnom Penh's Naga Clinic, said that most infections clear up on their own, but treatment with antibiotics is required if the infection persists.

However, the bacteria that are often responsible for the condition seemed to have developed resistance to the steroidal antibiotic eyedrop Maxitrol that is traditionally used.

"We don't know why, but the infection is resistant to routine treatment," he said. "It usually can be treated in one week, but now treatment is taking up to three or four weeks." He added that around 10 percent of sufferers develop a severe form of the condition.

Do Seiha recommended doctors use a two-pronged antibiotic drug response, prescribing Maxitrol drops alongside drops containing the third-generation synthetic antibiotic Moxifloxacin, which has only been available in Cambodia since December.

While these medicines can be bought over the counter, Do Seiha said they should only be prescribed by a medical doctor, as not all eye irritations are conjunctivitis, and not all conjunctivitis is bacterial. The condition can also be triggered by viruses or an allergic reaction, neither of which would respond to antibacterial treatment, while prolonged use of Maxitrol could damage the eyes.

They could also compound other conditions, such as causing ulcers in the eyes of those suffering from keratitis, an inflammation of the cornea, or worsening glaucoma.

Conjunctivitis outbreaks tend to hit Cambodia in November and December, but this dry season the epidemic came later in January and shows no sign of abating yet, Do Seiha said. He treated about 300 cases over the last three weeks in his ophthalmology practice at Naga Clinic, he added.

The infection is highly contagious and can be spread through person-to-person contact, picked up off surfaces and spread by dust - hence its prevalence in the dry season. Many people became infected when travelling to the provinces for Khmer New Year, Do Seiha said, picking it up from relatives or through exposure to dust-borne bacteria.

"Once one person in a family gets it, everybody will get it," he said. "To limit the risk, infected people must wash their hands regularly and avoid sharing towels." Recovered individuals also have a high risk of reinfection.

He expected the epidemic to persist until the rainy season arrived and reduced dust particles, which can carry conjunctivitis-causing bacteria.
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Japan donates $4 million to Khmer Rouge tribunal


PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Japan has donated $4.17 million to the U.N.-backed genocide tribunal trying former Khmer Rouge leaders on war crimes charges, just as the troubled court was running out of funding, a court official said Friday.

The money will be used to offset a salary shortfall for 251 court staffers until at least the end of the year, tribunal spokesman Reach Sambath said. The court has been troubled by political wrangling and allegations that some Cambodian officials were demanding kickbacks from people trying to secure jobs with it.

The tribunal is tasked with seeking justice for atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge during their four years in power in the late 1970s. An estimated 1.7 million Cambodians died under the radically communist regime from forced labor, starvation, medical neglect and executions.

"The donation arrived on time since the Cambodian side of the court was running out of budget. We really appreciate what the Japanese government has done," Reach Sambath said.

The donation comes as Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, is being tried by the tribunal for crimes against humanity, war crimes, murder and torture.

The 66-year-old Duch (pronounced Doik) commanded the Phnom Penh prison, where as many as 16,000 men, women and children are believed to have been tortured before being sent to their deaths. Only a handful survived.

Four other former Khmer Rouge leaders, aging and infirm, are being held for trial on charges of crimes against humanity and war atrocities. The are likely to be tried in the next year or two.

The tribunal operates under the joint administration of Cambodia and the U.N., which have separate budgets. In January, Japan gave $21 million to the U.N. side of the operation.

In March, Japan donated $200,000 to the Cambodian side for that month's payroll.

"Japan places a great emphasis on the progress of the Khmer Rouge tribunal, as it believes that this process will promote peace, democracy, the rule of law and good governance in Cambodia," a statement from the Japanese Embassy said.
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Cambodian hip-hop dance troupe started by ex-gang member plans local fundraiser

KK (Tuy Sobil) keeps an eye on breakdancers at Korsang, a center for returnees, in Phonm Penh, Cambodia, on February 13, 2008. (Jeff Gritchen / Staff Photographer)

By Greg Mellen, Staff Writer

LONG BEACH - When Tuy Sobil, better known as KK, started teaching children and teens in the slums of Cambodia how to break dance, he couldn't have foreseen all this.

A former Crips gang member from Long Beach, who was deported to Cambodia in 2004 after serving time for armed robbery, KK was still coming to grips with his own travails when word spread in Phnom Penh that he was a talented breaker.

After turning down initial pleas by kids to teach his technique, KK relented and Tiny Toones was born.

The goal was to "provide a safe, positive environment for at-risk youth to channel their energy and creativity into the arts and education" and away from the rampant drugs, gangs and criminal activity that infect the streets.

From meager beginnings, Tiny Toones has enjoyed rapid growth and become something of a media phenomenon.

The group has a drop-in center in Phnom Penh and offers educational and social services to needy kids.

Now Tiny Toones has gone global.

And a half-dozen dancers and a rapper are getting a chance of a lifetime.

On Sunday, the Tiny Toones crew concludes a U.S. tour as headliners at a hip-hop community fund-raiser in Inglewood. The event will also feature a live video conference from Cambodia with KK, who is barred from returning to the United States.

However, his dancers were granted visas and have spent the last two weeks traveling the United States, competing in hip-hop battles and packing in a lifetime of experiences that were once unimaginable.
Organizers had hoped to stage the event in Long Beach but ran into complications.

Those who can't make it to Inglewood can meet Tiny Toones at noon Sunday at Cesar Chavez Park, 401 Golden Ave. where a hip-hop/reggae community picnic will be staged with DJs, graffiti artists, b-boys, drum circles, fire dancers, and other artists.

The members of Tiny Toones may wear sideways ball caps, baggy clothes and strike American urban poses, but "Suicide," "T-Boy," "Diamond," "Fresh," "Honey, "Sokha" and "K-Dep" are pure Cambodian.

Dara Chan, a grad student and child of Cambodian immigrants, spearheaded the effort to get Tiny Toones to the U.S.

He said he was "blown away," when he saw the Cambodian crew perform.

Although the dancers, who range in age from 16 to 23, have only been at it for a couple of years, Chan says "they really pushed themselves. They created a really original show."

The routine begins as a traditional Cambodian "Monkey Dance," before transforming into a modern and urban interpretation of the classic tale.

Chan says he has been amazed at the love and welcome the Cambodian crew has received.

The idea of bringing Tiny Toones began with an invitation to an annual international dance battle called "Breakin' the Law," sponsored by the University of Wisconsin as part of its Hip Hop as a Movement week.

After strings were pulled and letters of support from numerous charities and law firms written, the Tiny Toones kids were granted visas.

Chan said efforts to get a temporary waiver for KK were unsuccessful.

After the show in Wisconsin, Tiny Toones traveled to New York, Philadelphia and Seattle. They return home after Sunday's performance.

In addition to Tiny Toones, the event will include art demonstrations and workshops, live graffiti and silk screening and performances by dancers, rappers, spoken word artists and DJs.

June Kaeswith, a student at Cal State Long Beach, organized the event.

"We want to bring back what hip-hop was originally about, which is peace, love, unity, having fun and knowledge," Kaeswith says. "This event is to revive that."

Information about the events is available by e-mail at Information about Tiny Toones can be found online at, 562-499-1291

Want to go?

What: Hip-hop community event featuring Cambodian break dancers

When: Sunday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Where: Chuco's Justice Center, 1137 E. Redondo Blvd., Inglewood

Admission: $5 - $10 donation requested
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