Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - The invisible epidemic



The invisible epidemic

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Photo supplied by GIZ

The invisible epidemic

Kong Yam’s sight is failing. Having worked all her life, the mother-of-six now struggles to complete everyday activities like making rice porridge for her grandson.

Kong Yam suffers from Type 2 diabetes, and she’s one of hundreds of thousands affected by Cambodia’s invisible epidemic. This neglected public health crisis is closely linked to the rapid changes in Cambodian society.

As GDP expands, so do waistlines, with people consuming more processed foods and sugary drinks.

A high-sugar diet, lack of physical exercise, smoking and alcohol have increased the risk of developing diabetes. According to a recent risk factor survey, the proportion of overweight or obese Cambodians increased from 15 to 22 percent from 2010 to 2016, while the number of people with raised blood sugar more than tripled to almost ten percent. Raised fasting blood sugar is a strong indicator of diabetes.

Kong Yam was diagnosed relatively early, but she’s in the minority. After feeling tired, hungry, and urinating more than usual, she went to her local health center in Kampong Thom province, until recently one of only 26 primary healthcare centers in the country trained to screen and treat diabetes.

For most people, diabetes goes undiagnosed until complications arise; only 1.5 percent of surveyed diabetics were on medication. Even for those diagnosed and on treatment, the cost of medicine is a huge burden. For her blood pressure and diabetes medicines, Kong Yam spends around 20 US dollars a month - over a third of her living costs.

Traditionally, infectious diseases, maternal and child health issues, and malnutrition have been at the center of health initiatives. Now the public health system needs to focus on new epidemics: Cardiovascular diseases, respiratory diseases, cancer, and diabetes.

In Kampong Thom, where Kong Yam lives, German development cooperation has been working with the Ministry of Health, alongside WHO and other partners, to make essential services for diseases such as diabetes more widely available at all levels of the health system.

This year, the German development organization GIZ and WHO have increased financial and technical support to more than double the number of health centers trained to screen and treat diabetes and hypertension.

And, a new collaboration between GIZ and the Ministry of Health focusing on secondary care will see improvements to the infrastructure of specialized diabetes clinics in the public health sector, in addition to a new project to improve access to care for children with Type 1 diabetes in children.

In a further significant move, the German development bank KfW is investing six million US dollars in the public health system allowing a significant expansion of the number of districts in Cambodia offering quality screening and treatment services for diabetes, high blood pressure and cervical cancer.

Kong Yam is also making changes: She is trying to cut back white rice as she knows that it causes her blood sugar to rise dramatically and gets support from a trained fellow diabetic, who works as a peer educator and helps build Kong Yam’s confidence and shares practical advice.

Cambodia now must strike an important balance. Even with increased access to services, the health system cannot solely treat its way out of this crisis.

More work still needs to be done on disease prevention, by fostering an environment where people lead healthier lives, so women like Kong Yam don’t develop diabetes in the first place.

MOST VIEWED

  • Hun Sen: Full country reopening to be decided in two weeks

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has announced that if the Covid-19 situation remains stable for 15 consecutive days from the end of the October 5-7 Pchum Ben public holiday, Cambodia will reopen fully, albeit in the context of Covid-19 whereby people have to adjust their lives to

  • Cambodia unveils new quarantine regulations

    The government has modified Covid-19 quarantine requirements, shortening the duration for, among others, Cambodian officials, foreign diplomats and delegations, investors and inbound travellers in general. According to an official notice signed by Minister of Health Mam Bun Heng late on October 16, quarantine length for Cambodian

  • Cambodia sets new Covid-19 quarantine rules

    The government has modified Covid-19 quarantine requirements, shortening the duration for, among others, Cambodian officials, foreign diplomats and delegations, investors and inbound travellers in general. According to an official notice signed by Minister of Health Mam Bun Heng late on October 16, quarantine length for Cambodian

  • Hun Sen: Cambodia set to fully reopen

    Prime Minister Hun Sen concludes that the October 5-7 Pchum Ben public holiday, during which many people either flocked to their hometowns for family reunion or gathered at tourist attractions across the country, has not caused an outbreak of Covid-19. In a special address to

  • Will Evergrande change the way Chinese developers do business in Cambodia?

    China’s property sector policy has exposed the grim financial condition of real estate developers including those operating in Cambodia, which raises questions over the viability of their projects and business going forward The dark blue netting draping over one of Yuetai Group Co Ltd’

  • Cambodia voted ‘world’s friendliest country’ in Rough Guides reader poll

    Cambodia ranked number one among the “World’s Friendliest Countries”, according to a reader poll conducted by London-based international website “Rough Guides”. Taking submissions through Twitter and Facebook, “Rough Guides”, a well-known travel agency and publisher of guidebooks, said the Kingdom “was by far the