Government Launches New Policy on Health Care for the Elderly

Ensuring that older residents have access to health care is one of the challenges for Cambodia as it faces an aging population, the World Health Organization said on Tuesday.

A national health policy that has been in the works for more than a year was presented on Tuesday in Phnom Penh, setting the foundation for caring for Cambodia’s rapidly increasing elderly population, though no action plan has been created.

cam photo mam bunheng channa
Health Minister Mam Bunheng speaks at the signing of a memorandum of understanding with Li Bin, the minister of China’s National Health and Family Planning Commission, in Phnom Penh 2016. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

The Health Ministry’s National Policy and Strategy for Older People Health Care was developed with the WHO, which noted it was “quite urgent” to start ensuring Cambodians maintained health as they aged.

The National Institute of Statistics estimated that the number of Cambodians who were over the age of 60 in 2015 was 1.3 million, or 8.3 percent of the total population. That’s expected to reach 5 million—21 percent of the population—by 2050.

WHO representative Dr. Liu Yunguo said that the national life expectancy had increased from 61.9 years in 2000 to 71.4 years in 2012, largely due to the country’s socioeconomic development.

“While the potential benefit of active and healthy older populations’ contributions to the society is enormous, aging also comes with challenges, such as rising burdens of non-communicable disease,” he said.

Dr. Momoe Takeuchi, a health systems development adviser at WHO, said some new initiatives had already started, including simple health screenings.

According to the 2014 Cambodia Demographic Health Survey, more than 80 percent of older people live rurally, where it is much harder to receive specialized treatment. The rate and severity of illness or injury is also very high among those over 60 compared to other age groups.

Kol Hero, director of the preventive medicine at the Health Ministry, said there were plans to train more geriatric doctors at local and provincial levels.

King Norodom Sihamoni recently signed a decree granting health insurance for civil servants, but “we need to look at universal health coverage,” Mr. Hero said.

Collaboration between ministries and departments will be necessary to achieve this, he added.

“Human resources are critical,” he said. “We can’t do this alone.”

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