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Member Research and Reports

Member Research and Reports

Minnesota: Mass Faintings Among Cambodian Workers May Have Multiple, Intermingled Causes

A puzzling phenomenon has plagued factories in Cambodia for years. Every year, more than a thousand workers faint for unexplained reasons in garment factories in Cambodia. University of Minnesota School of Public Health assistant professor Dr. Hyun Kim recently led a commentary on research into the mass faintings and suggests that investigators should consider the possibility that the illnesses are caused by multiple factors. The commentary was published in the journal Global Epidemiology

Mass fainting in workplaces are often due to poor work environments, such as exposing workers to chemicals without providing adequate ventilation or personal protective equipment,” said Dr. Kim. “However, the mass faintings among Cambodian garment workers are very mysterious.”

According to the authors, investigators have researched the causes, often arriving at singular conclusions that make the most sense within their particular areas of expertise. For instance, one study looked at the nutritional status of female garment factory workers and found that they are malnourished, anemic, and underweight. Other studies have suggested the causes include dehydration, “mass hysteria” and anxiety about fainting, and even social protest against employers. Yet, the faintings continue.

The authors recommend using a classical epidemiology concept, known as the “sufficient component cause model,” to guide researchers to think about the entire problem using a systems approach. The model implies that there may be multiple contributing factors within several sufficient causes that act together to result in an illness. Removing one of the contributing factors from one of the sufficient causes can prevent some, but perhaps not all, cases of the disease. 

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