Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday blasted critics of Cambodia’s health sector, saying they were “looking down on our physicians,” and suggesting that those calling for a revolution of the medical system wanted to kill the country’s 20,000 doctors.
Speaking at the inauguration of five buildings constructed by the Japanese government for the Preah Sihanouk provincial referral hospital, Mr. Hun Sen said he had heard people complaining about the quality of Cambodian physicians, including one unnamed critic who he said had called for a “physician revolution,” and another who had said that 99 percent of the country’s doctors were incompetent.
“They looked down on our roughly 20,000 health officials and physicians until some appealed for a physician revolution,” he said.
“If you do a ‘physician revolution’ that also means smashing all physicians.”
“We have heard some complaints raised by a number of people, as well as some commentators and some people looking down on our physicians,” Mr. Hun Sen said.
“We acknowledge that there are some loopholes, but it doesn’t seem to be that as many as 99 out of 100 are bad,” he added. “The majority of our physicians are very ethical, professionally responsible and make sacrifices to save people’s lives, and they work so hard like police and military police, even on national holidays.”
Political analyst Kem Ley, the founder of the political advocacy group Khmer for Khmer, has been quoted in local media recently using the word “revolution” to call for an overhaul of the country’s medical system. He said on Monday the prime minister was not taking his words in the correct spirit.
“I talked about a revolution in the health sector, not a physician revolution. This means that we need to have a major reform, not a small one, meaning that the leadership structure should be heavily reformed to put the right man in the right place with decent wages,” he said.
Mr. Ley cited, in particular, the fact many doctors supposedly working full-time in state hospitals also worked at private clinics, putting the figure as high as 85 pecent.
“It’s not professional, and it’s an unethical practice,” he said.
Another outspoken critic of the health sector, Mengly Quach, a U.S.-educated medical doctor and businessman, made public remarks in January that nine out of 10 Cambodian doctors were sub-par and treated their patients badly.
His comments prompted a government-affiliated doctors’ association to demand an apology.
Mr. Quach said on Monday that despite Mr. Hun Sen’s attempts to neutralize criticism, the reality on the ground was inescapable.
“While he says there are only small numbers [of bad doctors], the people who have experienced this say there are plenty,” Mr. Quach said.
“But we need to acknowledge that [whether it’s a] small or big number is not what matters, but that physicians in Cambodia are not ethical and professional based on individual judgment,” he said. “For me, I say there are many.”