An enormous private hospital funded jointly by the municipal government of Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City and the Cambodian petroleum giant Sokimex is planned for Phnom Penh, officials said Wednesday.
The development will be used for the training local doctors while alleviating travel costs for affluent Cambodian patients accustomed to seeking health care abroad, the officials said.
“We need some hospitals of international standard in Phnom Penh,” Minister of Health Nuth Sokhom said Wednesday.
“If people here had health care centers of the same quality as [in] Vietnam, people would save some costs on traveling to outside hospitals.”
Many Cambodians have long turned to private clinics—both licensed and unlicensed—as alternatives to the chronically underfunded and understaffed public health system.
Phnom Penh Municipal Health Director Veng Thai said Wednesday that about 800 to 1,000 Cambodians leave the country each year to seek health care in private hospitals in Vietnam or Thailand.
Sokimex President Sok Kong said Wednesday that the hospital will require an initial investment of $20 million, though the entire project could end up costing $50 million to $60 million. He will fly to Ho Chi Minh City today to hammer out the details of the agreement with officials there. Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema will join the discussions in Ho Chi Minh City on Friday, Sok Kong said. Kep Chuktema could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
The hospital is part of a bilateral agreement between the Vietnamese and Cambodian capital cities to develop joint investments in various sectors, including health and education, Veng Thai said.
Petroleum giant Sokimex had studied building a hospital on the former site of the T3 prison, Sok Kong said, but was deterred by the location of a nearby pagoda crematorium.
When Vietnamese officials expressed interest in building a hospital, the company joined forces with them, he said.
Sokimex is currently studying two sites of 6 to 7 hectares each in Meanchey and Dangkao districts as possible construction sites, he said. The hospital will also include a specialist training center for Cambodian doctors and nurses.
Public officials said Wednesday that they are hoping the Vietnam-Sokimex hospital will spur private investment in the health care field.
“Quality is the priority in the free market,” Veng Thai said.
The move toward private hospitals is part of the Health Ministry’s long-term strategy for improving health care in Cambodia, Nuth Sokhon said. A group of Thai businessmen is also looking to invest in a hospital, he said, and the government is looking to other countries like Singapore as potential investors.
“We really need private investment, with good quality service,” he said.
Though health care costs at public hospitals range from free to minimal—a surgery costing $700 to $800 at a private clinic may cost only $100 at a public one—the minister admitted the standard of care is lacking.
With the private sector providing high-end treatment for those who can afford it, Nuth Sokhon said the ministry is hoping that international donors will bail out the public system.
“We want to change the current system to have better treatment,” he said. “If [the patients] are poor, they pay less. If they are rich, they can pay a fair price.”
Ly Chhay Yuth, a vendor at Olympic Market, said she travels to Ho Chi Minh City for her medical checkups, which costs an additional $40 to $50 on top of the medical care.
The medical care she receives in Vietnam, however, is more advanced and reliable than that offered in her home country, Ly Chhay Yuth said,
“If there were some hospitals here that provided the same service as Vietnam, I wouldn’t take those trips to Vietnam,” she said.