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Healthcare in Cambodia is rarely up to international standards.
While some highly-regarded hospitals and clinics may be found in and around the capital, Phnom Penh, in more rural areas medical facilities are few and far between.
In addition to these difficulties, serious medical complications are often not dealt with in Cambodia itself, but will instead require treatment abroad.
As such it is essential to fully understand the Cambodian healthcare system if you plan to travel there or relocate as an expat. Doing so will ensure you receive the best possible care at the most reasonable prices.
There is considerable variation in the standards of medical care available in rural versus urban areas. The Cambodian Ministry of Health (MOH) invests primarily in medical facilities where population densities are greatest. This means that most major clinics and hospitals are to be found in cities, with a particular emphasis on Phnom Penh.
Sadly, while over 80% of the Cambodian population currently lives in rural areas, the low population densities of such areas mean that public healthcare facilities are few and far between. The few such institutions which may be encountered are typically stretched beyond capacity and so standards of care may not live up to your expectations. As a result, only an estimated 30% of Cambodians actually visit the free public facilities.
The solution to this is both simple, yet incredibly complex. On the one hand many native Cambodians end up having to rely on private healthcare facilities, often at (comparatively) great cost to themselves. Many of these institutions or individual medical practitioners operate without official approval and so standards of care may not be optimal.
As a third of Cambodia’s estimated population of 14.3 million people live below the poverty line it should come as no surprise that they struggle to pay for this private medical treatment. It has been estimated that over 75% of medical costs in Cambodia are paid out-of-pocket, with many poor families having to rely on loans or selling belongings to cover even basic care.
Oddly enough, Cambodia does not recognize the concept of prescriptions. Instead, all typically prescription-only medications are available over-the-counter. As such, pharmacies in Cambodia are big business, and may be found all over the country.
It is important to note that Cambodia is still known for fraud in some areas, and this may be experienced in some of the many independent chemists. Many of the drugs on offer here have been found to be fakes of the original drug.
While some visitors relish in not lining the pockets of global healthcare providers, it is important to understand that these unregulated alternatives may not have been through the same levels of stringent testing. Visitors are advised to avoid any medications they feel may not be genuine.
Possibly the best way of doing so is to avoid the smaller independent drug stores and instead to buy medication from one of the two large chains present in Cambodia.
Here are some of the more popular options in Cambodia:
Cambodia is rife with potential health risks, so a series of vaccinations may be recommended before you visit the country. Consult your local doctor’s surgery for the most-timely guidance on which injections will be required.
As a guide, the following vaccinations are recommended for visits to Cambodia:
Some visitors, depending on your destination and lifestyle choices may also want to consider the following injections:
Note that bird flu has been recorded in Cambodia, though cases are few and far between. Visitors should seek to avoid physical contact with birds – such as by avoiding livestock markets where chickens are prevalent.
As readers should now be aware, healthcare in Cambodia can leave a lot to be desired.
For your own safety there are two steps which should be considered.
Firstly, as the few hospitals offerimg international standards of care are to be found in and around Phnom Penh, expats and tourists residing in this area are likely to find medical coverage to be far better than in more rural areas.
Secondly, it is critical to understand that many more serious injuries may be better handled overseas. It is not unusual for even wealthy Cambodians to leave the country in order to receive essential care in Bangkok or Singapore.
Here the medical facilities are considerably better, with newer facilities and many English-speaking doctors. The problem is getting to one of these destinations, especially in the case of an emergency. Quotes vary but a single trip by helicopter is likely to set you back a minimum of $10,000. Some expats have received bills several times that in the past.
A combination of the prevalence of private medical facilities, and the potential need for emergency medical care abroad all mean that expat health insurance or overseas medical insurance should be considered essential for visitors.
In order to reach the emergency services in Cambodia simply dial 119 from any landline. Note, however, that the ambulance service in Cambodia is far from efficient, with some expats complaining that phone calls are simply left to ring. Under such circumstances it may be necessary find an alternative mode to transport to take you to hospital.
As stated earlier, the best hospitals in Cambodia are found in Phnom Penh as a rule. Below you will find a list of the some of the better-quality hospitals that expats might want to keep handy during their visit…
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