Social Protection Scheme Bolsters Nation’s Healthcare

Cambodia’s social protection program is helping save lives by promoting healthcare and reducing the cost of living, according to leading medical experts
A mother holds her baby near a hospital in Phnom Penh, February 1, 2023. Kiripost/Siv Channa
A mother holds her baby near a hospital in Phnom Penh, February 1, 2023. Kiripost/Siv Channa

The social protection program plays a significant role in promoting the healthcare service sector and reducing the cost of living, which leads to improved socio-economic status.

Ky Sontea, Director of Kantha Bopha Hospital in Phnom Penh, said on Monday that as of its 30th anniversary there have been approximately two million cases of illness cured at Kantha Bopha Hospital and about 22 million child cases have received free treatment healthcare services, while more than 2.5 million children were hospitalized.

“Until now, we have spent about $900 million to help in the healthcare service sector for 30 years,” he said.

Today, 2,500 doctors, surgeons, and midwives, as well as nursing and cleaning staff, work at Kantha Bopha hospitals, according to the Foundation Children’s Hospitals Kantha Bopha.

“The government of Cambodia began to help support this hospital in 2000 from $30 million until the last five years, funding of $6 million per year, which has contributed with the Swiss foundation that we use for hospital operation costs. This does not include the funding from the Ministry of Health yet,” Sontea said.

This funding has helped many Cambodian citizens with healthcare expenditures that contribute to cutting down on poverty when their children are sick, he added. ​

The child mortality rate at the hospital sat at about seven percent in 1997. Today, it has dropped to 0.2 to 0.3 percent.

For the last five years, the government funded about $6 million to Kantha Bopha hospitals, combined with the Swiss foundation for the hospital operation costs.

Sontea estimates that per case of hospitalization one needs to spend approximately $260 for an average curing period of five days.

Yai Chanthana, Director of Jayavarman VII Hospital, Siem Reap​, said the hospital provides pregnancy check-up services averaging about 300 to 500 pregnancies per day. It also provides delivery services to about 50 to 100 women each day.

“Sometimes within 24 hours of delivery, more than 100 children are delivered for free. Treatment and cash support for pregnant women from the first pregnancy check-up until the baby is two-years-old, according to the social protection policy to support poor women who come to give birth at the hospital,” he mentioned.

Lack of waiting rooms for pregnant women when they are about to give birth is a challenge for the Kantha Bopha hospital in Siem Reap province, while there are many citizens from bordering provinces, including Ratanakiri, Mondulkiri and Kratie, who attend the hospital to give birth and receive pregnancy healthcare and delivery services. In addition, private patients who come from other private hospitals also attend the public hospitals.

“We lack a place for them to rest and wait before it is their turn to deliver. Sometimes they rest on the floor since we don’t have beds and separate waiting rooms with proper facilities and big spaces for them yet. Our place is still narrow for them,” the Director of Jayavarman VII Hospital, Siem Reap added.

He said, “The big challenge is money. As we have said, the cost of healthcare treatment services is about $260. It is really cheap already, including surgery and many more services that we calculated overall, if compared to the treatment cost from other private hospitals.”

Scott Neeson, Founder of Cambodian Children's Fund (CCF), found that to help save children from poverty they need education to help their families. And it is complicated as their families still need them to work to pay debts.

Therefore, the organization provides free medical and maternal care. As a result, the absentee rate of school children has also dropped. In order to ensure a better future for the children, the organization also needs to support their relatives and communities.

“The families that have been living in that area have benefited from it [national protection payment] enormously, and now with the ID poor they receive the payment every month. [...] The biggest issue for now that we are seeing is a very high rate of debt between 10 to 20 percent per month. We never quite saw that prevalent pre-Covid,” Neeson said.

He added that after years of progress, CCF discovered the root cause driving families from rural homelands to live and work on a dump site is debt. Families were struggling to pay debt for health care bills, with crippling interest rates of above 20 percent per month.

By allowing families to pay back over time helps them overcome substance and domestic abuse, and helps promote a future without debt, according to the CCF.

Nearly one million Cambodians' livelihood conditions are improving due to the social protection program, said a representative from the​ Ministry of Social Affairs. “The main issue is citizens still keep making immigration risky and the Ministry of Social Affairs​ is trying to strengthen cooperation to better improve this issue,” she said.