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Healthcare a Ready Target for Parties

[Editor's note: In the weeks leading into national polls, VOA Khmer will explore a wide number of election issues. The "Election Issues 2008" series will air stories on Tuesday and Wednesday, followed by a related "Hello VOA" guest on Thursday. This is the second in a two-part series examining the state of Cambodian health care.]

As the country heads into a campaign period, competing parties have found an easy target as they search for failings in the current administration: a weak healthcare system they call unethical and corrupt.

Government health officials say they are improving the ethics and practices of the nation's doctors step by step, but competing parties are using the rural hospitals, which are often rundown, and underpaid doctors, to build campaign platforms against the ruling party.

Cambodian People's Party lawmaker Chiem Yeap said the party has run the government for 30 years and is working to improve the healthcare field, especially in rural areas. Already, a policy of free vaccinations and other treatments is in place, he said.

Other parties, however, say that in practice, there is no free health care, as individual doctors ask for money from their patients. And with a one-month campaign period that begins Thursday, they will seek to convince voters they have the best new policies for the ailing healthcare system.

Doctors in the provinces have no ethics, hospitals are old and unsanitary and some doctors act as though they can cure the ills of everyone, from children to the elderly, said Muth Chantha, spokesman for the Norodom Ranariddh Party.

The NRP has several strategies prepared to fix the health system, including the reform of Cambodia's code of ethics, more money for doctors, improved technical tools for clinics and hospitals, and a larger budget for the Ministry of Health. The party would also like to see true, free healthcare for the nation's poor, he said.

Free treatment for the poor and a larger budget for the health sector are on the platform of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party.

"Public hospitals are full of corruption and have no professional ethics," party leader Sam Rainsy said.

Seng Sokheng, secretary-general of the Hang Dara Democratic Movement Party, said the party the party "will eliminate all problems where people meet difficulties," he said.

The party does not want people to fear the hospitals, he said, and would seek to bring the lowest cost of medicine to people, following the example of Thailand.

"Now not only the poor, but the rich have no confidence in the health system of Cambodia," said Ban Sophal, president of the Society of Justice Party, which he said would seek to provide modern tools and better hospital buildings to healthcare workers.

"I will not let people die because they have no money to go to the hospital," he said. "My party will be responsible on this."