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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Squatter health project may shut

Squatter health project may shut

Squatter health project may shut

Health sector professionals have called for urgent donor funding to prevent the

closure of a project that provides 24,000 of the city's poorest residents with

essential, affordable health and childbirth services.

The government's

Health Services for the Urban Poor project (HSUP) was established in April 1999

under the broader Urban Health Project. It was funded by the British

government's aid arm DfID until December 2001 and extended with funds from UN

Habitat until December last year. Now, though, it has now reached a funding

crisis and may be forced to close within weeks.

UN Habitat's advisor,

Peter Swan, said the health services project had proven both efficient and

effective in meeting the health needs of the poor. He described the project's

$120,000 total annual budget as "trivial" in aid terms.

"I really do

think that it is extremely short-sighted of the donor community to let this

project close," Swan said. "Over the last three years they have done some

excellent intervention to provide much-needed affordable health services for the

poor."

HSUP operates health rooms at the Anlong Kngann and Samaki

squatter relocation sites on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, and another at the

Boeung Kak slum area.

The rooms provide very low-cost or free prevention

and care services, including pre- and post-natal care, medicines and

vaccinations. An equity fund also provides free referral services to hospitals

for pregnant women and emergency patients who cannot afford to pay.

Dr

Sour Salan, HSUP project manager with the municipal health department, said that

without additional funding the health rooms would be forced to close by the end

of February, leaving thousands without access to vital care.

"[Then] the

people will try to treat themselves and use illegal or unsafe services, or for

people who can pay they will come to national hospitals," Dr Salan

said.

David Wilkinson, technical consultant to the HSUP project, said the

project was highly successful and "read like a donor's wishlist".

"This

project is targeting the poorest and most vulnerable," Wilkinson said. "It is

efficient and cost effective, it is improving equity and it is building the

capacity of the municipal health department. It is saving the lives of mothers

and children."

Wilkinson said the lack of funds was due to a donor

reluctance to support urban health projects in the capital. That, he said, meant

there was a "great danger" the health needs of thousands of the city's poor

would not be met.

"Donors are quite right to put the bulk of their

support into rural areas, but there is a danger if some funds aren't devoted to

urban poor," he said. "The needs and vulnerabilities [of the urban poor] are in

some cases greater.

"Because of the high concentrations of people in the

relocation sites and slum areas, poor sanitation and poor hygiene, there is a

potential for major public health problems such as TB and cholera."

But

DfID's health advisor, Delna Ghandhi, said the HSUP project had been extended

twice since December 2000. She said that while DfID appreciated there are poor

people in Phnom Penh, it wanted to focus its "limited resources" on the poorest

in rural areas.

"DfID's country strategy, which was developed in

1999-2000 with government partners, is to focus resources on the poorest areas

of Cambodia - those with the worst health indicator and least access to

services," Ghandhi said. "If you look at the statistics, infant mortality rate

in Phnom Penh is 37 per thousand births, while in Ratanakkiri it is

170."

Swan said UN Habitat was trying to locate short-term funding to

allow the project's survival until longer-term funding is obtained.

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