The new World Health Organization country representative, James Tulloch, presented his credentials Thursday to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Tulloch arrived in Phnom Penh last Saturday and began work Monday. He comes to Cambodia from East Timor, where for the last two years he oversaw the UN Transitional Authority in East Timor’s efforts to establish a health infrastructure.
The capital of East Timor, Dili, is filled with international aid and development workers—including some Cambodians—who worked in the years following the Untac mission in Cambodia.
Tulloch, an Australian, spoke with many of those workers as he prepared to move to Cambodia. “They are all still very enthusiastic about Cambodia as a place to live and work,” he said.
The Untaet mission to help rebuild East Timor began after UN-sponsored elections in 1999 established the former Portuguese colony as an independent nation. Indonesia had claimed East Timor as its own following a 1975 military invasion.
Comparisons are often made between Untaet and the $2 billion Untac mission, which culminated in the 1993 Cambodian national elections. The goals of both missions were to maintain peace using foreign soldiers, organize elections and build national infrastructure.
Cambodia’s health care infrastructure in the early 1990s was as distressed as East Timor’s health care system is today. But great strides have been made in Cambodia in recent years, Tulloch said.
WHO will continue to focus on improving the financial structure of the government’s health system, he said. The organization will also carry on its work fighting malaria, tuberculosis and HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
A 2000 WHO report found that Cambodia’s health care system ranks 174th out of 191 countries. Imbalances in health care distribution plague the system. At least 85 percent of Cambodians live in rural areas, but 87 percent of the nation’s health care workers operate in cities. Poor people in Cambodia must spend a greater proportion of their income on health care than the poor in other countries, the report stated.
The report also found that 138 out of 1,000 Cambodian boys and 129 out of 1,000 girls will not survive their first five years.
Tulloch has worked in developing countries since 1975, focusing mostly on child health. He has done malaria research in Papua New Guinea and worked in child health clinics in Bangladesh, where he helped health workers tackle common illnesses such as diarrhea, malnutrition, malaria, measles and respiratory infections.
Tulloch started working for the WHO in 1976 and has also spent time working at the organization’s headquarters in Geneva.
He replaced fellow Australian Bill Pigott, who served as WHO representative since 1999 and recently retired.