MSF to Meet Health Minister

Medecins Sans Frontieres will meet with the Minister of Health on Thursday in the aftermath of the recent announcement that the Nobel Prize-winning organization is considering withdrawing from Cambodia.

The meeting will likely cover government attempts to reform its budgetary system, Dr Mam Bun Heng, secretary of state for the Health Ministry, said.

But neither Mam Bun Heng nor MSF country director Maur­its van Pelt knew the specific agenda of the meeting when contacted Tuesday. Health Minister Dr Hong Sun Huot could not be reached for comment.

The government has come under increased pressure from health groups to change the way money is distributed through the Ministry of Finance. Only 23 percent of this year’s health budget was distributed as of Aug 31.

MSF sent a letter to the ministries of Foreign Affairs, Health and Finance in mid-August, citing deep concern for the current state of budgetary affairs “that threatens MSF’s future involvement in the rehabilitation of the Cambodian health system.”

Van Pelt said last week that three of MSF’s four section offices would withdraw from Cam­bodian public projects un­less improvements were made. MSF, which has been working to create functioning hospitals in remote provinces, has a $3 million budget this year.

Most health-care NGOs are frustrated with the low amount of money actually making its way to the public health sector, “be­cause they have to deal with the con­­sequences of that in the field,” said Stephane Rousseau, executive director of Medicam, an um­brella group of health NGOs. “There has been some action taken” to reform budgetary procedures, he said, “but in prac­tice we still haven’t seen re­sults.”

One attempt to reform the process is a draft proposal for the 2000 budget called the Pri­ority Action Plan, said a West­ern diplomat familiar with the pro­cess. The plan would provide quarterly funds to district level administrators upfront, the diplomat said.

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