When the Cambodia National Assembly passed the 2016 national budget last December Cambodia’s public health system was not high on the list for additional resources, receiving a meager 8 per cent increase from the year prior, or $275 million. Admirably education received a boost of 28 per cent of the $4.3 billion budget, or $502 million, while the defence budget rose 17.3 per cent to $382 million.
With Cambodia healthcare spending amounting to about $18 per person, per year, Cambodians feel hopeless when dealing with Cambodia’s public health system. The service delivery is viewed bad by both rich and poor in the country, with only 8,502 licenced health-service providers, and more than 3,900 illegal healthcare practitioners.
As a consequence, when people face health problems most rich people turn to private rather than public hospitals in the hope of better service, despite having to spend more. Some even cross the border to find better service and doctors for treatment; Vietnam and Thailand being the two most popular.
However, for poor people unable to access private hospital they have no choice but to seek treatment through Cambodia’s public health system. Others in remote areas such as Battambang Province’s Roka commune even turn to unlicenced doctors instead for treatment due to the lack of confidence in local Cambodia public health services.
Roka Villager Mao Sophan said: “The health centre is no good. They give paracetamol for everything. If you want something else, they say ‘No’.”
The poor standard of healthcare available to Cambodians was highlighted globally in 2014 when a sole unlicenced ‘doctor’ in the commune infected 300 villagers ranging from infants to the elderly with HIV through the re-use of needles. This malpractice left 14 villagers dead and the rest of the community in fear.
In response the Cambodian government announced a ban on unlicensed doctors throughout the country and ongoing raids by the Cambodia Ministry of Health (MoH) have seen many closed down.
However, with just one qualified doctor for every 5,000 people unlicenced medical practitioners continue to play a vital role in filling the gaps in the under-funded and resource stretched Cambodia public health services system.
In this documentary by Aljazeera English 101 East, Steve Chao examines the role of unlicenced medical practitioners in propping up Cambodia’s public health services system.
Feature video Al Jazeera English
- HIV Patients in Cambodia’s Roka Commune Too Weak to Work (RFA)
- After Shock of HIV Outbreak, Facing the Future (The Cambodia Daily)
- 4,000 unlicensed health care providers: ministry (The Phnom Penh Post)
- Assembly passes budget as CNRP boycotts vote (The Phnom Penh Post)