Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, the government has spent at least $752 million on purchasing vaccines, medical equipment, payments to frontline medical workers and other core measures to help prevent the spread of the disease, according to a senior Ministry of Health official.

Ministry secretary of state York Sambath revealed the figures at a press conference on the ministry’s five-year achievements, held at the Council of Ministers on September 15.

She said the healthcare sector is one core element of the government’s rectangular strategy for 2019-2023 and also a key part of Cambodia’s Sustainable Development Goals Framework 2016-2030, which has the goal of the promotion of healthcare that is safe, effective and equitably available to everyone.

Breaking things down by year, Sambath said that in 2020, which was the early start of the pandemic in Cambodia, the Ministry of Economy and Finance had released around $36 million initially for medical purposes.

The following year, she said a total of $692 million had been disbursed for purchasing vaccines and providing allowances for frontline medical workers and those involved in managing quarantine centres, medical doctors at hospitals and health centres for Covid-19 prevention measures.

So far this year, only $24 million has been spent, as the Covid-19 situation improved and thanks to the fact that most vaccines had been purchased in 2021.

“With regard to the budget, I want to cite [Prime Minister Hun Sen’s] words saying that a lot of resources have been spent over the past two years. This figure is only for health-related issues and does not include the spending for social support for vulnerable people [through the cash transfer programme],” she said.

Sambath said many of Cambodia’s “friends” in the international community and its development partners had supported the Kingdom through grants and donations during the pandemic, especially with acquiring vaccines.

She said Cambodia would have a total of around 75 million doses of vaccines through purchases, donations and through COVAX – a global initiative aimed at ensuring equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines – assuming that 20 million doses more would arrive through COVAX and 15 million more from China. She said these vaccines doses are expected to arrive in 2023.

She said that currently there are around six million doses in the national stockpile or distributed and available for use at vaccination sites, hospitals and health centres.

Cambodia has been widely lauded for its effective response to the pandemic, especially its vaccination reach, which enabled the country to reopen socio-economic activities across all sectors in late 2021.

However, Sambath said that because the pandemic is not over yet, the government was right to take a long view of the situation by constructing a large hospital which could accommodate more than 6,000 patients near Boeung Tamok Lake in the capital’s Prek Pnov district.

Health ministry spokeswoman Or Vandine, who also attended the press conference, said Cambodia is paying a great deal of attention to health issues such as lowering maternal and child mortality, among others, as well as strengthening the healthcare system overall.

“The government continues to invest in resources, quality health coverage and prevention of financial risk through social health support such as providing specific health services to the public,” she said.

With regard to increasing human resources, Vandine said Cambodia has 19 state and private medical training institutions with 16,099 students having graduated over the last four years.

She said that there are currently 28,865 officials working in the health sector, with 6,062 at the national level and 22,803 at the sub-national level. The government has also developed strategies and policies for digital health initiatives, such as online consultations with medics, for 2021-2030.