Ensuring health care for all people in Cambodia

Cambodian children and their parents sitting at Kantha Bopha children’s hospital in Phnom Penh in July 2012. Khem Sovannara/AFP
Cambodian children and their parents sitting at Kantha Bopha children’s hospital in Phnom Penh in July 2012. Khem Sovannara/AFP

Ensuring health care for all people in Cambodia

by Dr Yunguo Liu

If you or a member of your family had a heart attack, was badly injured in a traffic collision, or was diagnosed with diabetes, would you be able to get the health care you need?

Up to half the world’s population is missing out on basic health services and almost 100 million people are plunged into extreme poverty every year because the costs of their health care are unaffordable.

Cambodia is recognised as one of the countries that made the most impressive gains in recent decades to improve newborn and child health, ensure provision of HIV/AIDS treatment to over 80 percent of the infected population, and expand vaccination coverage. But now, the government of Cambodia has a more ambitious vision of ensuring that quality health services are accessible, affordable and acceptable for all Cambodians. The technical term for this latter vision is “universal health coverage”.

The World Health Organization was established 70 years ago, on April 7, 1948. Each year, this day is celebrated all over the world by member states of WHO as World Health Day. Reflecting its importance, the theme of World Health Day this year is universal health coverage.

Why? Despite significant health gains around the world, many people are still just one illness away from poverty. There are unacceptable gaps in access to health care. Whether people can’t afford to pay, live too far away from health facilities, lack knowledge, or suffer from stigma or discrimination, we must address these problems that prevent people accessing the life-saving healthcare they need. We must not tolerate these inequities.

Universal health coverage means addressing these challenges so that all people are able to access good quality health services and the medicines they need without experiencing financial hardship – whoever they are, wherever they live, and without any form of discrimination.

We need care that both promotes health and prevents sickness, and we also need better care for people already living with health conditions. Both communicable and noncommunicable diseases need to be addressed to achieve universal health coverage.

Recent initiatives by the Cambodian government, in collaboration with development partners, are aimed at tackling many of the issues that are key to moving towards universal health coverage in this country, as part of Cambodia’s commitment to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals – for which universal health coverage is one important target. Building on the platform of the Health Equity Funds, the aim is to expand financial protection so that for all Cambodians, the cost of care when accessing health services is not a barrier to their use.

With the development of the National Social Protection Policy Framework, there has been an expansion in social health insurance schemes and efforts are being made to financially cover workers in the informal sector. Initiatives are also underway to improve the quality of care, and to expand the provision of services for noncommunicable diseases like hypertension and diabetes. The recent National Health Congress highlighted social health insurance and quality of care.

All Cambodians have a role to play in moving the country towards universal health coverage – through building and using health services, and through contributing to the economic growth required to support Cambodia’s ability to provide health services for all.

But universal health coverage is itself an investment to ensure long-term growth, reduce poverty, help children to grow and provide all Cambodians the opportunity to realise their potential. Efforts towards universal health coverage must therefore be at the heart of the development agenda, and require the participation of all sectors, not just the health sector.

As WHO, on this World Health Day, we commit to continuing our long history of working with the Royal Government and people of Cambodia to improve their health and wellbeing. We will redouble our efforts to support Cambodia’s path towards universal health coverage and achieving the health-related Sustainable Development Goals – to contribute to Cambodia becoming a safer, fairer and more prosperous country for all.

Dr Yunguo Liu is a WHO representative in Cambodia

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