Jamra primary scholl for children affected by HIV/AIDS, drugs or poverty, Senegal (c) Nell Freeman/Alliance Participants in the Photovioce project, Ecuador © Marcela Nievas for the Alliance
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European MPs visit Cambodia to assess MDGs


MPs during visit to Cambodia © Chhay Sophal

In August, Alliance linking organisation in Cambodia KHANA (the Khmer HIV/AIDS NGO Alliance) hosted a week-long study tour by a delegation of four European MPs (from Belgium, Spain, Lithuania and Germany).

The purpose of the visit was to investigate progress and challenges in the achievement of the three health-related Millennium Development Goals (child mortality, maternal health and the fight against HIV/AIDS) in Cambodia.

The study tour was organised by the European Parliamentary Forum on Population and Development and Action for Global Health.

During the visit, the delegates met with representatives from the ministries, relevant national authorities and UN agencies, as well as taking part in site visits to projects that are working towards achieving the health-MDGs.

The health needs of vulnerable groups in Cambodia

Although Cambodia is one of the few countries to achieve MDG6 (reversing the spread of HIV) with prevalence falling from 3% (1997) to 0.8% (2007) and the Cambodian constitution stipulates that poor people (around 30% of the population) should have access to health services, this visit highlighted that access to primary health services is still a distant reality for many marginalised and vulnerable groups.  

There are still 75,000 people living with HIV (1 in 100 Cambodians) and it is entertainment workers and their male clients, men who have sex with men and intravenous drug users who are most at high risk of getting HIV and passing it to the general population.

The global economic crisis has also had an impact on the epidemic.  It has led to the closure of many industrial and manufacturing factories in Cambodia, forcing many young girls and women to seek work in the entertainment industry (between 2008-9 the number of sex workers in Phnom Penh increased from 17,000 to 37,000).

Sadly, many people in these marginalised groups are not covered by any social insurance (despite the introduction of a Cambodian Health Equity Fund).  In reality, these groups have to pay fees ranging from $0.50 to $12, depending on the necessary treatment.  This is simply not possible in a society where the average salary is $61 a month.

Engagement with decision makers

During the visit, at a health donor roundtable hosted by the EU delegation in Cambodia, the parliamentarians learnt about the international support provided mainly by German, British and French aid.  At the meeting, concerns were expressed at the prospect of forthcoming cuts in donor funding and the potential impact on the Cambodian MDGs (CMDGs).

On their return to Europe, the parliamentarians endorsed a commitment to take action to raise awareness of global health issues.  Specifically, in advance of the UN High Level Meeting to review progress on the MDGs in September in New York, they are calling for the European Union and its member states to:

  • Strengthen global funding mechanisms for health
  • Increase transparency on how resources are budgeted for global health
  • Deliver long-term predictable aid for health – in order to lift people out of poverty through empowerment, improved health and social status.

In an official statement released by the European parliamentarians, they said: “Health solutions for Cambodian people are within reach. Present action must nevertheless be complemented by a supportive political, legislative and financial environment to ensure long-term results and effectiveness. We must advance, implement and protect the human rights of the Cambodian people and in particular of Cambodian women and girls.”                               

A full report will be produced on the visit in due course.  Check the EPF website.

    access to health services is still a distant reality for many marginalised groups