Cambodian Factory Shut Down By Mystery Illness

Da Vy is still not certain why she fainted.

In a media interview, the 36-year-old factory worker described what she experienced immediately before her collapse in early December.  “I just finished sewing 20 bras and I started not feeling good…. I went to the bathroom and my hands and legs became weak and I fainted,” she said. “I still feel in shock over this incident, because I have been working for 10 years in the garment sector and I have never experienced this before.”

Officials in Cambodia's Kompong Speu province are still investigating the mysterious epidemic striking workers at the newly-opened Cerie Cambodia Garment factory.   After forty workers collapsed on December 7, health authorities blamed it on improper ventilation following the factoryt's fumigation over the weekend.   On the following day, seventy workers reported similar symptoms which the director of the provincial labor department suggests may be due to psychogenic illness.

“One person had difficulty breathing and became weak and was carried out. When they saw this, they subsequently fell down,” said Chek Borin. “It has nothing to do with the pesticide anymore but they still felt shocked and scared inside the factory.”   Affected workers were rushed to hospital and most were able to return home within only a few hours.

Factory managers decided to close operations for several days and have scheduled a Buddhist ceremony to reassure workers that conditions were safe to resume work.   Incidents of mass psychogenic illness have become increasingly common in Cambodian and similar outbreaks have been reported in neighbouring countries.   Factory workers are felt to be especially vulnerable because of substandard work conditions and extreme poverty.   Lax labour laws allow employers to ignore health problems and rumours of toxins in the air or water spread easily among workers.

A much larger outbreak of suspected mass psychogenic illness occurred in Bangladesh two years ago when more than four hundred garment workers fell ill after drinking water believed to be contaminated.   Though many workers were hospitalized over health concerns, there were no fatalities and they were usually released from hospital after only a few hours.  



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