To begin my column this week, I would like to offer my heartfelt condolences to His Majesty King Sihamoni, Her Majesty Queen Mother Norodom Monineath, the entire Royal Family, and those in Cambodia who are mourning the loss of His Majesty King Father Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia. The King Father was an influential figure in Cambodia for over six decades, and I was very moved by the repatriation ceremony for his remains that I attended on Wednesday.
This week I would like to respond to an interesting question I received about healthcare, specifically, “How does the U.S. government support or invest in Cambodia’s mental healthcare?” This is an important issue and one that is often overlooked.
Public health is one of the most important pillars of the U.S. government’s relationship with Cambodia. This support comes through U.S. government agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Department of Defense, and Peace Corps. We work closely with the Royal Government of Cambodia and local organizations to help improve the country’s healthcare facilities so that Cambodian mothers can give birth safely. We help fight diseases such as HIV, malaria, and tuberculosis. Together, we make sure that all Cambodian children are vaccinated against diseases like measles. These are just a few of the important health issues that we are helping to address.
These are very important investments because they are crucial to Cambodia’s continued growth. This is why the U.S. government continues to support the improvement of healthcare in the country despite the very difficult global economic climate. For example, U.S. support has helped Cambodia cut its HIV prevalence by two thirds and its maternal mortality ratio by half in a relatively short amount of time.
Despite all of this success, there is still much to be done to improve Cambodia’s healthcare. Mental health is one such area that calls for greater attention. Cambodia is not alone in this challenge. The World Health Organization reminds us regularly that, throughout the world, people are suffering and dying unnecessarily from mental illness. In fact, on October 10, the World Health Organization celebrated World Mental Health Day, noting that over 350 million people worldwide suffer from depression, affecting loved ones, families, and in some cases, like Cambodia, whole communities. In many countries, unfortunately, such problems appear low on the list of priority health concerns.
We recognize the importance of supporting mental health issues in Cambodia, particularly given its unique history of conflict. To address this concern, the U.S. government plans to launch new programs in the future, involving teams of trained specialists to work with Cambodians to address the mental health consequences of conflict. In the meantime, we will continue to help through our support of Cambodia’s physical health, which generates benefits to mental health by improving the performance of doctors and building a more efficient and stronger Cambodian health system. U.S. government programs alleviate financial hardship related to healthcare, addressing some of the underlying issues that contribute to mental stress and illness. Finally, U.S. government HIV programs work to eliminate stigma and discrimination.
At the same time, we will encourage both the Royal Government of Cambodia and others to devote more resources to improve mental healthcare services in Cambodia. The health – both physical and mental – of Cambodian citizens is a shared responsibility. It is important that we all work together – governments, community organizations, and the private sector – to make sure that Cambodia’s health continues to improve.
I’ll end here. Thank you for being such loyal followers of my column. Please continue to send me your questions at AskAMBToddPP@state.gov and read my blog at http://blogs.usembassy.gov/todd.
William E. Todd is U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of Cambodia