In Siem Reap town and province, where history and modernity converge, the Project for Improvement of Referral Hospitals – an initiative funded by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) – is ushering in a new era of “healthcare excellence”.

For Suon Sorn, a woman in her 50s residing in Prasat Bakong district’s Bakong commune, her journey to the provincial referral hospital in neighbouring Siem Reap town marked a significant turning point.

With a persistent cough troubling her, she sought professional care, and her hopes and anxieties intertwined as she awaited a lung scan in the recently constructed facility.

Upon entering the modern structure, she was immediately struck by the gleaming, state-of-the-art equipment that fills the halls.

“I’m truly impressed by this new hospital and its excellent facilities. It’s so comforting to receive care in such a modern and high-end environment,” she exclaimed.

The sentiment reflects the transformative impact of the project on healthcare in the region.

This crucial undertaking receives generous sponsorship from JICA.

At the heart of this endeavour lies the Centre of Surgical Service, a four-story building spanning over 8,450sqm.

The surgery centre houses six modern operating rooms and an array of cutting-edge medical equipment, with a total value exceeding $19 million.

Kros Sarath, the hospital’s director, highlights its growth, expanding from its initial limit of 150 beds to its current capacity of 250 beds.

“Yet, despite our expansion, we’ve been grappling with a recurring challenge: an influx of patients surpassing our available beds, at times forcing individuals to rest on the floor,” he mentioned.

Recognising the mounting demand for medical services in the region, the provincial health department embarked on this project in 2017 in collaboration with JICA.

Their aim was to enhance and expand the province’s healthcare capabilities, ensuring it could meet the evolving needs of the local community and beyond.

According to JICA, the roots of this initiative lie in the hospital’s vital role as a core facility not only for Siem Reap but also for neighbouring provinces.

Over time, there has been an increase in patients seeking care in the region, particularly those impacted by traffic accidents and non-communicable diseases.

The hospital’s once aging infrastructure, dating back to the 1970s, and its lack of contemporary equipment, impeded its capacity for efficient response.

The shortage of resources and healthcare professionals in district hospitals within the province resulted in an overwhelming concentration of patients at the facility.

“To address these critical challenges, JICA initiated the project, which included facility upgrades and the acquisition of advanced medical equipment, not only for the Siem Reap Provincial Referral Hospital but also for district hospitals in Kralanh, Angkor Chum, Sot Nikum and Puok,” a JICA press release detailed.

Cutting-edge equipment and enhanced service capacity

The new facility incorporates an emergency room, diagnostic imaging units, a general outpatient department, an intensive care unit (ICU), a central sterilisation unit and a surgical ward, all designed to offer comprehensive services.

Apart from construction, substantial efforts were dedicated to acquiring vital equipment, including X-ray machines, diagnostic ultrasound devices, patient monitors and operating theatre apparatuses.

These resources benefit not only the referral hospital but also extend to the four district hospitals, ensuring consistent service delivery across the system.

Construction commenced in December 2021 and reached successful completion in September this year. This marks a significant advancement in bolstering medical accessibility and quality for the region’s residents.

“More than 70 per cent of the patients who choose to stay at our hospital are self-paying individuals, with over 20 per cent benefiting from the National Social Security Fund [NSSF] and around 20 per cent from the Equity Fund,” Sarath said.

“This is because our hospital offers more affordable services compared to private healthcare providers,” he added.

Siem Reap is home to more than one million residents, from 11 districts, 100 communes, over 970 villages and the namesake provincial town itself. Within the province, there exist 93 health centres, four district hospitals and the provincial hospital.

Sarath observed that due to the government’s supportive policies for pregnant women and childbirth, there has been a noticeable upswing in patients seeking services.

He stated that his hospital boasts a team of 39 specialised professionals, many of whom received training in France, South Korea and esteemed institutions in Phnom Penh.

Additionally, he mentioned that 90 per cent of these doctors are native to Siem Reap, emphasising the hospital’s dedication to nurturing local expertise.

Furthermore, he pointed out that the provincial hospital handles a greater volume of surgical patients compared to other provinces and, on certain days, performs up to 35 surgeries.

“With the operation of the new hospital building, we anticipate a significant and ongoing decrease in the mortality rate of critically ill patients,” he expressed.

Pen Phalkun, the hospital’s co-director, revealed that the six operating rooms are equipped to accommodate a range of specialties, encompassing abdominal and thoracic, neurological, urological and ear, nose, and throat (ENT) surgeries.

He also provided additional insights into the hospital’s facilities, mentioning the presence of a state-of-the-art operating theatre and a surgical intensive care unit (ICU).

Furthermore, the hospital has integrated cutting-edge technology to facilitate various procedures, including laser grafting, prostate surgery, brain surgery and the treatment of blood clots.

This investment in advanced medical equipment demonstrates the hospital’s commitment to providing high-quality care.

Lim Heng, deputy director of the hospital, also mentioned the wealth of expertise within their pool of specialists, all of whom have graduated abroad in their respective fields.

He affirmed that the health sector in Cambodia now boasts technological and human resource capabilities that rival other countries.

Mech Meach, a 34-year-old woman who found herself at the referral hospital while tending to her ailing husband, couldn’t help but be impressed by the new building. Although she doesn’t plan to be hospitalised herself, the mere presence of the new structure left a lasting and positive impression.

“It looks truly amazing, especially when I learned that it was constructed to meet Japanese standards,” she told The Post.

Her observation underscores the impact of the endeavour, not only on the quality of care but also on the aesthetic and functional aspects of the environment.

Heng stressed that the new facility not only elevates healthcare standards for the local community but also offers international visitors a “world-class” service experience.

“Tourists visiting Siem Reap will receive top-notch medical care while paying considerably less compared to services received in their home countries,” he explained to The Post.

This combination of quality and affordability has the potential to make Siem Reap an even more attractive destination for travellers seeking both cultural experiences and reliable healthcare services.

Heng added that the Centre of Surgical Service is currently open to the public, while they are planning a traditional inauguration ceremony in accordance with Buddhist principles.