The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has approved $32.5 million in financing to help improve the healthcare system in Cambodian provinces bordering Thailand, it announced on October 20.

The large-scale financing, it said, will focus specifically on helping to increase access to quality health services in Banteay Meanchey, a border province in northwestern Cambodia that serves as a hub for departing and returning migrants, and those seeking employment in the province’s special economic zones.

Additionally, as part of the Cambodia Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) Border Areas Health Project, ADB financing will expand healthcare coverage for migrant workers who are increasingly neglected by health systems at home and abroad, and for the populations in border areas where migrants pass through and reside.

The project will extend a concessional loan of $27 million and a grant of up to $5.5 million to the Cambodian government to build and equip health facilities in border areas and extend healthcare-related financial protection to migrants.

It will also strengthen systems for the integrated delivery of health services across borders, including introducing a portable electronic health record for migrants, ADB added.

Banteay Meanchey provincial governor Ou Reatrey said he was busy in meetings when reached for comment on October 20, while provincial health department director Le Chansangvat also declined to comment.

Rikard Elfving, ADB senior social sector specialist for Southeast Asia, said regional cooperation and integration across the GMS has fuelled not only economic growth but also the greater movement of people in search of better jobs and opportunities.

“This has generated a unique set of mobility-linked health challenges, especially for border areas linked to major economic corridors,” he said.

Health systems in border areas are often inadequately equipped to respond to mobility-linked health challenges, as illustrated during the Covid-19 pandemic, when more than 260,000 Cambodian migrant workers returned home, according to ADB.

The majority re-entered through land borders with Thailand, overwhelming the capacity of border area health systems for Covid-19 case detection, quarantine and treatment.

GMS countries have collectively agreed on the need to enhance protection of vulnerable communities from the health impacts of regional integration and have prioritised strengthening health systems in border areas.

Investment in migrant-inclusive health systems will facilitate the resumption of safe migration that is critical to the subregion’s post-pandemic recovery, ADB said.

The GMS Border Areas Health Project will build upon ADB’s experience in supporting communicable disease control programmes and will integrate lessons from Cambodia’s response to, and recovery from, the pandemic, it added.

In the announcement, the regional development bank reiterated its commitment to achieving a prosperous, inclusive, resilient and sustainable Asia-Pacific, while sustaining its efforts to eradicate extreme poverty.