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Cambodia’s Child Mortality Rate Drops by Half

Naomi-Collett Ritz / Khmer Times Share:
A nurse at the Angkor Hospital for Children treats an infant in the Neonatal unit, which opened in 2013. Last year, the unit cared for over 350 newborns, most for common infections. Photo: Som Chamroeun

SIEM REAP (Khmer Times) – Cambodia’s child mortality rate has dropped from 95 to 45 deaths per 1,000 live births, according to a recent UNICEF report.

Of this group of under five children, 28 of every 1,000 Cambodian infants die before reaching the age of one.

Despite dramatic reductions over a decade, Cambodia’s child mortality rate for children under five years old remains higher than its neighbors, Thailand and Vietnam. But, Cambodia’s rate lower than Myanmar, which stands at 51 per 1,000, and Laos, where the rate is 71 per 1,000. 

Immunization and Roads

The study by UNICEF attributes this promising trend to “effective immunization combined with successful breastfeeding promotion and better infant and child care.” They also cite improved access to health care and accelerated coverage of pneumonia and diarrhea-related interventions as factors. 

The UNICEF report also states that midwife training and pre- and post-natal care have improved. Sonny Krishnan, a World Health Organization (WHO) spokesperson in Cambodia, says that a 2007 government program to promote deliveries in public hospitals also is having a significant impact. 

In a joint statement released by the WHO and the government, Health Minister Mam Bunheng said the improving rates were due in part to strong coordination between different government ministries and aid groups.

“This has helped ensure that development partners align with government priorities and plans, and has also contributed to increased resource allocation and action in maternal and child health,” he said.

But, Dr. Beat Richner, founder of Kantha Bopha hospitals, insists the improving numbers are due to better roads that allow people to travel to Kantha Bopha’s five children’s’ hospitals. He asserts that of 19,361 deliveries at Kantha Bopha last year, only 26 newborns born to term died. 

More Breastfeeding

Over the last 15 years, percentage of children breastfeeding has soared, from 11.4% in 2000 to 74% today. This is due in part to public campaigns by the Ministry of Health and the Council for Agriculture and Rural Development.

But, malnutrition and access to care in villages remain big hurdles. The former is the cause of almost one-third of child deaths.  UNICEF says that high food prices since 2008 have contributed to slow progress in the area of nutrition.

For the Angkor Hospital for Children, the three primary barriers to children’s health care are cost of transportation, lack of confidence in quality of care, and lack of accommodation upon arrival.

To combat these issues, the hospital works with the Ministry of Health to offer travel allowances, food rations, access to a kitchen, free accommodation and round-the-clock security for patients and their families. 

One child taking advantage of the hospital’s services is Nika. At the age of three, she was diagnosed with retinoblastoma. When a local healthcare provider said her right eye would have to be removed, her mother looked elsewhere for treatment.

When her condition worsened, Nika’s family made the trek to Phnom Penh’s Children’s Surgical Center. Then, they were referred here to the Angkor Hospital for chemotherapy. 

Her parents, who earn less than $100 per month, could not afford the bimonthly trips to the hospital. So the Angkor Hospital paid for all transportation costs. Last year, Nika successfully finished her chemotherapy treatment.

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