A Viral Escalation

The nation’s leader earns less than $1,000 per month.  Yet he has a helipad on the roof of his city home, multiple luxury vehicles, travels frequently by private helicopter shielded by two military helicopters leading and following, travels overseas frequently, and his family have homes in New Zealand, Australia, Europe and beyond.  When you have money, lifestyle visas are easy to come by regardless of character.

It is common in countries where corruption is well established for official salaries to differ vastly from true income.  When a leader sets the benchmark, their ministries follow suit.  Public servants earning well under $1,000 per month drive luxury cars, live in fancy houses and send their children overseas for expensive western educations.  It’s hard to fathom how this actually works but my small glimpses from the consumer’s end are well demonstrated by one woman’s story.

A couple of years ago she developed an ascending painful infection on her legs.  Working as a street seller in a slum, her daily income precariously fed the family until she could no longer mobilise and was forced to seek medical attention.  Her doctor asked her “how can I help you if you don’t pay me?”.  Her 15yo daughter quit school to work as a waitress for $120 per month to cover the family income while her mother was incapacitated.  Then her doctor received $4,000 in cash borrowed from multiple sources including neighbours, family and the bank.  Then he treated her disfiguring, crippling infection.

Her youngest, bright and bouncing primary school aged daughter led us through the narrow alleys and up the broken staircase into their tiny single room in the slum.  My Cambodian colleague wanted to see if there was some way I could help or advise.  There really wasn’t.  Badly scarred legs were almost healed and she’d been shown physiotherapy exercises to help keep the joints supple and improve her mobility.  She remained housebound and was still crawling to mobilise, so the $120 per month that her daughter was earning had to feed the family as well as repay the various loans.  A lifetime commitment of loans to pay for a single, unexplained health complaint.  Her only request was “could you support us with some monthly food so that we don’t fall behind in our loan repayments”.  I have regular dreams about her.

When we left her home that morning, I thought I’d met my suffering for the day.  But we walked back into the alleyways, around a few corners, and met a woman lying on her deathbed.  A wooden table in a narrow, dirt floored alley, dying in pain with no income to afford analgesia.  But that’s another story altogether.

There is some evidence that warmer temperatures and higher humidity, such as Cambodia experiences at this time of year, impacts the viability of some coronaviruses.  The virus is also spread by droplets coughed out by infectious people.  These droplets remain suspended in the air for much shorter periods of time when the air is hotter and heavier.  This supports the idea that the virus is (so far) not transmitting easily in Cambodia and is not a big threat.  The mass panic on display in Cambodia is probably quite unjustified, but of course influenced heavily by the same global panic impacting toilet paper sales, stock markets and human behaviours worldwide.  Recently many dozens of panic stricken people crowded around the only laboratory in Cambodia able to test for Covid19.  When turned away from being tested because they didn’t fit the criteria, a small protest erupted which included threats to burn the laboratory down!

Meanwhile their political leaders have now pledged more than tenfold, their initial commitment of $30 million, escalating to $400 million in the “fight” against Covid19.  The decision will likely be unquestioned because of the level of public fear.  It is early days to say for sure, that this virus is probably not establishing in any meaningful way, but it’s certainly also early days to devote 25% of an already duplicitous national budget to nothing more than a theoretical threat.  The revenue will come without cutting salaries, meaning that already-deficient services and materials are the focus of cuts.  Where will all this extra money actually go, I have been asking myself….

This Reuters article from October 2016 answers the question to some degree.


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