Researchers are claiming that the ancient Angkorian Khmer Empire established the world’s first healthcare system within the government structure, with a total of 102 hospitals built throughout the empire.

Im Sokrithy, director of the Department of Temple Conservation and Archaeology at Angkor Archaeological Park under the Apsara National Authority (ANA), told The Post that a group of international experts from the US, UK and Asia had presented their findings at a workshop on “Buddhism and Traditional Medicine” at the ANA’s Angkor Training Centre on July 20.

Sokrithy said that researchers working across the whole of Asia in places such as Tibet, Nepal, India, Southeast Asia, China and Japan have all researched the connection between Buddhism and traditional medicine.

He said those experts had discussions with other researchers who focused on healthcare in past historical periods in Europe including ancient empires such as the Romans, and they concluded that the Khmer Empire was the first to create an organised healthcare system in the world.

“We are not the ones who are saying this, rather it’s being said by scholars who have been researching this for decades. They gathered research from Tibet, Nepal, Japan and Korea to study about the healthcare systems in those countries and they said that it was not the ancient Chinese empire or the great Indian empires nor the whole rest of Southeast Asia.

“They said it was the Khmer Empire that was the world’s first to create a proper health system operated in accordance with its laws. They came to conduct the workshop on July 20 to tell us about that,” Sokrithy said.

According to Sokrithy, the international experts presented research indicating that each hospital established by the Khmer Empire had a proper management system with nearly 100 employees, including one director at each hospital and other staff such as doctors, nurses, pharmacists and medical assistants.

The healthcare system they described was created under King Jayavarman VII and was in operation from the end of the 12th century onwards.

Sokrithy said the research findings should be a source of pride and excitement for Cambodians and it should inspire the next generation of Cambodians, especially students in science, history and archaeology to carry out further research about the types of drugs used in that era and other important details that might be discovered through excavations and other means today and in the future.

“The path lies before us, now we must forge ahead, walk upon it and see where it leads us, meaning we need to do further research and share that knowledge and educate others. In addition to that, it points to potential new destinations which could be new attractions to bring in tourists for that sector as well,” he said.

He added that the first scholars to start researching this topic were the French, who translated the inscriptions at an ancient hospital in Cambodia in 1903, which confirmed that the Khmer Empire had hospitals in ancient times.

The breakthrough came via a comparison of the subsequent research over the past centuries on healthcare in the ancient world, which pointed to the conclusion that the Khmer Empire had the first known organised healthcare system in human history.