Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thursday acknowledged that there were problems with healthcare provision in Cambodia, but fell short of admitting that the country’s health system was deficient.
Speaking during the closing ceremony of the Ministry of Health’s annual conference, the premier focused on the attitudes of doctors towards patients. He appealed to doctors to adjust their attitudes and reflect on their own morals, which he said was the main issue casting the healthcare sector in a negative light.
“We acknowledged the shortcomings and the use of bad words by some doctors, but not in terms of the healthcare sector as a whole,” Hun Sen said. “Therefore, we must change that attitude. It is easy to stop using rough language compared to addressing the shortage of medicine, which is a harder issue.”
Hun Sen insisted, however, that there was only a problem with a small number of doctors. He also ordered healthcare institutions to treat people without discrimination, regardless the patient’s income.
Hun Sen’s comments come after harsh criticism and public discussions in relation to the confidence of the Cambodian people in the healthcare sector. Some have questioned the ethics of Cambodian doctors, who often impose high costs on patients for treatments.
Quach Mengly, a Cambodian-American medical doctor and businessman, praised the prime minister’s statement and said some progress was being made. But the long-term critic of healthcare provision in Cambodia told VOA Khmer that much more work needed to be done.
“This is just a starting point of a wake-up call. Hence, we can’t expect anything special to happen anytime soon,” he said. “However, we still have the belief that there will be a change of attitude from those who serve in the healthcare sector. At least it comes from the mouth of Prime Minister Hun Sen, who acknowledges the shortcomings.”
A lack of confidence in domestic health services means wealthy Cambodians usually go overseas for treatment, visiting hospitals in Thailand, Vietnam or Singapore, where Hun Sen himself received a checkup recently, according to a post on his Facebook page.
In his speech, Hun Sen pointed to the lack of specialized doctors in Cambodia, which he said was the reason many people go overseas for treatment. He ordered the Ministry of Health to include specialized doctors under the age of 35 in the category of government officials.
“We really need specialized doctors. Due to this lack [of specialized doctors] we often send patients for treatment overseas,” he said.
Mengly countered that only deep and effective reforms in the healthcare sector would attract Cambodians to be get treatment domestically.
“Like I said, we have just started to reform. So I don’t think that it could change the people’s mentality for them to return home for treatment anytime soon,” he said. “However, if the reform keeps on, I believe that there will be much progress and new development in the sector. At that point, we don’t need to force them to return. They will return by themselves.”