US donates millions for health services
The US signed an agreement on Tuesday worth US$34.8 million to help Cambodia improve its health and educational services - including HIV/AIDS prevention. During the signing ceremony, Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong stated that US$31.6 million has been allocated for improving Cambodia's health services and combating the spread of infectious diseases. The remaining US$3.2 million will be spent on increasing quality and access in education, he said.
Fewer than two in 10 public health centres in Cambodia are equipped to help prevent the transmission of HIV/AIDS from mothers to babies, according to a new study.
Only 154 of 957 public health centres in the country - 16 percent - provide Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission of HIV (PMTCT) services, according to a report published by the Treatment Monitoring and Advocacy Project of the International Treatment Preparedness Coalition.
The report was part of a global study that examined PMTCT preparedness in six countries, including Cambodia.
Dr Kem Ley, a consultant with the Monitoring and Evaluation Association who conducted research on the Cambodian section of the report, said the lack of PMTCT services contributes to the majority of pregnant women - 70 percent - not using public health centres.
"They don't learn how to prevent HIV transmission from mother to child," he said.
Many women in rural locations also have to travel long distances to reach health centres, Kem Ley said, adding that others who make the lengthy trip find it difficult to meet with health officers because the medical professionals often work few hours because of low pay.
Local nongovernmental organisations specialising in health and HIV/AIDS prevention hope to use the evidence to lobby the Ministry of Health to promote better PMTCT practices.
Kem Ley is urging the Ministry of Health to list PMTCT services with private clinics because, he said, more pregnant Cambodian women use private clinics than public health centres.
Officials have urged the government to intervene. "The maternal mortality rate is still high in the region, with 472 per 100,000 live births," said Tia Phalla, deputy director of the National AIDS Authority. "So the government must strengthen health centres and human resources."
Health officials have encountered problems reaching HIV-positive pregnant women because many prefer to give birth at home or use untrained, traditional village midwives, Tia Phalla said. It has also proved difficult to reach women in rural areas. "If we find a pregnant woman is HIV positive, we have to give medicine to prevent her foetus from contracting the virus," Tia Phalla said. "She must be monitored every time, which makes it hard for her to come to the health centre because [it costs her] time and money."
The government is trying to encourage trained midwives by paying them 60,000 riels per birth, and the NAA is looking for US$10 million in funds to reduce maternal mortality and increase staff.