A joint delegation of 10 members of parliament (MPs) from Denmark, Norway and Sweden recently completed a four-day mission to Cambodia. 

Their aim was to observe how Gavi-The Vaccine Alliance, Global Fund and UNICEF programmes, supported by Nordic countries, have contributed to maternal and child health progress in the country. 

The mission also provided an opportunity for the MPs to engage with key stakeholders and understand how strengthened partnerships can accelerate progress on women’s and children’s health and rights amidst the ongoing negative impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

A UNICEF Cambodia press release issued on February 9 highlighted the Kingdom’s routine immunisation programme as one of Southeast Asia’s highest performing, with vaccination coverage rates consistently exceeding 80 per cent for potentially serious bacterial diseases.

“The prevalence of HIV transmission, tuberculosis [TB] and malaria has also dropped significantly over the past decade. In 2017, Cambodia became one of only seven countries to have achieved the 90-90-90 global HIV targets and in 2021 transitioned out of the list of 30 high TB burden countries,” the release noted.

In Siem Reap province, the visiting delegation witnessed firsthand the challenges and efforts involved in delivering critical healthcare services like immunisations, antenatal care and malaria testing to remote communities. Their visit to field activities underscored the ongoing work to strengthen local health systems for these vital services.

Will Parks, UNICEF representative to Cambodia, said the support from Denmark, Norway and Sweden have contributed to progress in health outcomes for hard-to-reach communities in the country, impacting millions of lives.

“Through continued strong multilateral cooperation and collective investments that prioritise equitable access of essential social services, we can help children fully realise their rights and create opportunities for a healthier and more prosperous future for every child in Cambodia,” he said.

Danish MP Gunvor Wibroe said she was impressed with the progress she had seen for vulnerable groups, children, adolescents and women. She attributed this progress to collaborations between civil society and multilateral institutions, among other factors.

“There’s no doubt that what we have seen – vaccinations, sexual reproductive health and rights, and the work to support women’s rights and maternal health – are making a tremendous difference not only for individuals but for the wider communities and the country as a whole,” she said.

Health priorities discussed

Lork Kheng, chairwoman of the National Assembly’s (NA) 8th Commission on Healthcare, Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation, Labour, Vocational Training and Women’s Affairs, co-chaired a meeting with Norwegian MP Asmund Grover Aukrust, chair of the parliamentary delegation.

During the meeting, Kheng stated that the NA’s 8th Commission is responsible for far-reaching social work, overseeing the interests and challenges of the people through all stages of life.

“In the seventh mandate, the government has made it a priority to protect the welfare of the people with the aim of enabling everyone access to healthcare services,” she said.

Kheng also said that she is concerned about the incidence of non-communicable diseases among the elderly and has suggested that the government increase alcohol taxes and reduce advertising on alcohol and sugary drinks.

She also asked the visiting lawmakers to conduct research on health concerns in the capital and provinces, noting both the importance of health in poverty reduction and the need for training in global health services in the country.

Cambodia’s immunisation programme has expanded in the past decade, introducing seven new vaccines with support from Gavi. These additions protect against a range of diseases.

The pentavalent vaccine combines protection against diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, hepatitis B and Hib.

The PCV vaccine guards against pneumococcal diseases, while the IPV vaccine provides protection against polio. 

The JE vaccine tackles Japanese encephalitis, a mosquito-borne infection, and the MR vaccine offers immunity to both measles and rubella. 

The HPV vaccine helps prevent cervical cancer caused by the human papillomavirus.