European Lawmakers Say Millennium Goal on Maternal Health at Risk

A delegation of European parliamentarians raised concerns on Friday that global development targets regarding health in Cambodia were off track and that European donor countries are not doing enough to help ensure health services are properly delivered.

Birute Vesaite, a member of parliament in Lithuania, said that out of the three Millennium Development Goals on health, the one concerning maternal mortality is currently lagging in Cambodia.

The goal states that the maternal mortality ratio worldwide must be reduced by three quarters from 1990 levels to 250 deaths per 100,000 births by 2015. In Cambodia the ratio stood at 461 per 100,000 in 2008, according to the most recent census.

“We admire the Cambodian constitution that says that health services are free of charge,” Ms Vesaite said speaking at a news conference at the end of a weeklong visit to Cambodia during which European parliamentarians met with government ministries, NGOs and UN agencies to discuss progress in Cambodia’s health services. “But actually it’s not for everybody.”

“We can see that improving access to a modern health service for everyone who wants it is needed,” she added.

European delegates from Belgium, Spain and Germany on Friday also said that increasing the number of qualified health workers – there are currently only 2,000 qualified nurses working in Cambodia – is essential if development goals regarding maternal mortality are to stand any chance of being achieved.

There are also major infrastructure problems in Cambodia meaning that travel times between health centers are terribly time consuming.

Delegates said in a statement released Friday they were “concerned that Europe is not doing enough, nor moving fast enough, to ensure that health and development aid is delivered at the scale and in the ways necessary to support developing countries and among them Cambodia to achieve all health MDGs by 2015.”

When asked if donor money from Europe would increase in the coming years, German parliamentarian Uwe Kekeritz said he was unsure.

The government this year is allocating $150 million toward health out of a national budget of $2 billion.

Lork Kheng, a member of the National Assembly’s Commission on Public Health, said on Friday she hoped next year’s spending as part of the budget would rise.

“In the future we hope to increase help to nurses who want to work in local health services,” she said at the news conference, explaining that most qualified nurses currently work in Phnom Penh municipality leaving rural areas particularly under-equipped.

She said the government was thinking of paying nurses prepared to work in more remote locations more as an incentive, though no details on the plan have yet been made.

In February the UN and Asian Development Bank said in a joint report that Cambodia is making “slow progress” on nine out of the 21 development indicators, including primary school enrolment and completion, child mortality, child malnutrition and care for expectant mothers.

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