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Troubling health stats from Unicef

Troubling health stats from Unicef

C AMBODIA ranks in the world's lowest tier of nations in its achievements in

health, nutrition and other measures of social progress, according to

Unicef.

Unicef's "Progress of Nations 1995" report released last month,

surveying health, education and family issues, says Cambodia ranks with Myanmar,

Afghanistan and several African countries such as Burundi, Somalia, Rwanda and

Zaire in polio eradication. Some 300 polio cases of polio are reported a year

here.

Unicef applauded Cambodia's two National Immunization Days earlier

this year but said at least two more need to be held in 1996 and 1997 to

eradicate the polio virus, provided a suitable surveillance system can be set up

to ascertain that no new cases are being reported.

Resistance to measles,

diarrhoeal diseases and respiratory diseases is improving, but not nearly

adequate, Unicef says. Although 55 percent of children under one are getting

immunized against measles, the rate of measles is "still high" with 200 cases

reported per 1,000 children under five years old.

Respiratory diseases

and diarrhoeal diseases constitute 50 percent of medical treatment for children

under five. The report says the Ministry of Health has established in Phnom Penh

a National Diarrhea Treatment Unit, and programs are being set up in the

provinces as well. "Yet much remains to be done to inform parents about the use

of Oral Rehydration Therapy at home when their child gets diarrhea."

The

report measures several other areas of social progress.

Safe water:

Thirty six percent of Cambodians have access to safe water. That is about equal

to Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar, but far below the rest of Asia except Papua New

Guinea and Afghanistan. The definition of "safe water" can vary from piped water

in each home, to a clean well within a half hour walk.

Vitamin A

deficiency: Cambodia recognizes that Vitamin A deficiency exists as a public

health problem, but the incidence among children under five is well above the

public health standard. Programs are being implemented to make vitamin A

supplements available to health facilities, but the present coverage is

inadequate. Two cent capsules - or a better diet of leafy greens and carrots -

could wipe out the deficiency, which can lead to blindness.

Iodine

deficiency: Unicef recommends that all countries put iodine in their edible salt

to prevent iodine deficiency, which can cause mental impairment. Cambodia has no

such program but the Unicef report says steps are underway to assess the

deficiency and the salt supply and consumption in the country.

Fertility

rates: As a result of family planning education and availability of birth

control, the number of children per woman has been declining slightly in most of

the world over the last 30 years. Cambodia's fertility rate of 6.3 children per

woman in 1964 has declined by just 1.1 percent. That is the lowest rate of

decline of all of the East Asia and Pacific countries except Laos, where the 6.2

children per woman rate has actually increased slightly.

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