Maternal Mortality Progress Wanting, Unicef Says

Though Cambodia is making progress in achieving its Millennium Development Goals, improvement of maternal and child mortality among the poorest and rural population groups has been slow and will be the country’s biggest challenge the next five years, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund.  

In a report released Tuesday ahead of a UN conference later this month on the development goals, Unicef highlighted the discrepancies among socio-economic groups in countries across the world.

The report said that among the poorest 20 percent of women in Cambodia, only 21 percent gave birth with a skilled health attendant present, while in the top income group 90 percent of women received healthcare during delivery in 2008.

In the poorest families in Cambodia, 35 percent of children under 5 were underweight, while in the highest income group only 16 percent of infants suffered the same condition, the report said.

Viorica Berdaga, chief of Unicef Cambodia’s Child Survival program, said so far there had been significant improvements on MDG targets for reducing child mortality and child malnutrition, while little progress had been achieved on the maternal health target for 2015.

Ms Berdaga said the Unicef report indicated that the advances that had been made on these health targets had been much more rapid in the higher income groups and in urban areas.

As an example of the geographical inequalities of this progress, Ms Berdaga said that in 2005 Phnom Penh had already surpassed the target of 66 deaths per live births by 2015, while Mondolkiri province still recorded 165 deaths per 1,000 live births.

“The greatest disparity is poverty-related and geographically related,” she said. “The biggest challenge will be to address these inequalities over the next five years.”

Ms Berdaga said that to “achieve MDGs with equity” the government would have to expand its social support and health services to cover the poor and rural segments of the population. “It really depends on how hard they keep trying to reach the poorest and most vulnerable,” she said.

Srun Darith, deputy secretary-general of the government’s Council for Agricultural and Rural Development, said the government was on track to reach most of the MDGs, but he added that the recent economic crisis and the 2008 food price crisis had slowed down progress, most notably in the field of child nutrition.

Mr Darith acknowledged, however, that there were major discrepancies in MDG progress for rural and poor population groups. “That’s why we target our intervention to the poorest of the poor… [and] we focus our development on rural areas,” he said.

Minister of Health Mom Bunheng and Secretary of State Eng Huot both declined to comment on the Unicef report yesterday.

(Additional reporting by Phorn Bopha)


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