Santepheap Health Centre, located in a remote and forested area in Stung Treng province, will contribute to the reduction of maternal and child mortality in the region, while providing access to primary health care for almost 20,000 people, according to Plan International Cambodia.

“This is the first-time in decades that the people of Santepheap commune, in Siem Pang district, have had access to a local health centre. Most of the local population are Kavet indigenous people,” said Plan International deputy country director Yi Kimthan at the launching on February 6.

Plan International collaborated with the Stung Treng Provincial Health Department to establish the facility, which is near the Cambodia-Laos border. It will improve access to primary health care services, especially for indigenous people with special needs, as well as women and girls, in the area.

“The majority of the population in Santepheap commune are members of ethnic minority groups, and have minimal knowledge and understanding of the health and nutrition needs of children. Child malnutrition and mortality rates are high,” said Kimthan.

“The health centre will contribute to reducing under-five maternal mortality rates in Siem Pang district. This will also enhance the capacity of community members to participate in managing their own development projects and community facilities,” he added.

In addition to the physical building, he said Plan International will support the provincial health department to train health center staff and midwives. It will also provide malnutrition and child mortality education.

Construction of the centre was completed in late January, with financial support from Plan International. During the construction process, extensive consultations were held with all relevant stakeholders, including the provincial health department, operational districts, commune council, teachers and youth representatives.

Matt Maly, 24, a villager in the commune, expressed her happiness at the opening of the new facility.

She recalled that when she gave birth to her first son – three years ago – she had to travel to the Siem Pang Health Centre. The 13km journey had to be completed at night, on poor quality roads. As a new mother-to-be she remembers how frightened she was.

“I am very pleased that the new centre is so accessible, especially to the women in y community. I was terrified that I would deliver my baby without any medical assistance while I was on my way to the hospital. It was such a long distance, and it was raining. I was lucky I made it to the hospital,” said Maly, who is an indigenous woman.

Say Pel is an 18-year-old resident of the district. She said her nearest clinic is at least an hour from her, due to difficult road conditions. She was pleased that the new centre meant new mothers would not have to travel as far as she had.

“During my pregnancy, I went for a check-up every month – in accordance with the instructions of the health center staff. My family is not wealthy, but I had to spend a lot on travel,” she added.

Plan International hopes that the new health center will increase access to primary health care for more than 12,000 people and more than 7,000 children.

Sen Pisey, director of the new centre, said the Siem Pang Health Centre, which is about 35km away, was the nearest major medical facility.

“The road is often damaged, especially during the rainy season, and people need to use ferries to cross rivers. Some pregnant women chose to take their own vehicles to get to the centre. This is not only time consuming, it is dangerous,” he added.

“Most of the children in the commune have not been vaccinated. Some of the members of the community get treatment from traditional healers, who provide low-quality health services at a high cost. The most common illnesses we will treat are diarrhoea, acute respiratory infections, malaria, dengue fever, typhoid fever and malnutrition,” he concluded.

Stung Treng provincial health department director Ung Soveat expressed his pleasure at the convenient access to health care the new centre would provide to the people of the Santepheap commune, especially pregnant women.

“The centre will promote healthy behavior among the villagers, reduce maternal and infant mortality rates and elevate local people’s overall health and wellbeing,” he said.