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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Health request raises eyebrows

Health Ministry official Dr Or Vandine discusses the efforts needed to improve health care services before the election at a meeting yesterday in Kampong Cham province. Facebook
Health Ministry official Dr Or Vandine discusses the efforts needed to improve health care services before the election at a meeting yesterday in Kampong Cham province. Facebook

Health request raises eyebrows

An official from the Ministry of Health during a meeting this week urged ministry officials nationwide to carefully plan and discuss what can be done to improve health care services before the 2018 election – a request that experts yesterday called a politicisation of measures that should, in fact, be an obligation.

Cambodia’s health care system has been widely derided for years, with those who can afford it often choosing to go abroad to seek care.

Or Vandine, technical director of general health at the ministry, made the request during a meeting on Tuesday in Kampong Cham, which was later summarised by a 10-point list posted to the ministry’s Facebook page.

The list pointed out existing gaps in the health sector that need to be addressed, as well as other reforms, such as the need for medical professionals to be ethical in order to gain people’s trust.

Point number eight, however, raised some ethical questions itself, observers say. “Please hold a discussion, pay attention to what can be done, make a plan and monitor it in order to get an achievement in the future before the 2018 election, [for instance] a change of behaviour, preparation of hospitality service, patient arrangement (triage) and issuance of prescriptions must be made clearly,” the post reads.

Vandine couldn’t be reached for comment yesterday and she didn’t respond to a message. Ly Sovann, spokesman for the ministry, referred questions back to Vandine. Social analyst Meas Ny said the request was not appropriate when coming from someone in the ministry, which should be neutral.

“The Ministry of Health should not be involved in politics,” he said. “This is an ethical issue.” Linking improvements to the elections might make people perceive the move as a selfish act rather than a “real intention”, Ny said.

San Chey, director of Affiliated Network for Social Accountability, said the much-needed improvements in the beleaguered health care system should not be driven in the form of “political propaganda”.

“The improvements should not be a kind of . . . election campaign,” he said. “The concern is that the improvements are needed beyond the elections.”

He added that reforming the health care system “should be an obligation” and not a ploy to “draw attention from the voters”.

Chum Sopha, executive director of the NGO Health and Development Alliance, meanwhile, said the ministry just wanted to show people that it’s committed to addressing people’s needs – as well as commitment to Prime Minister Hun Sen.

“But how much will they actually achieve, is the question,” he said.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY KHOUTH SOPHAK CHAKRYA

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