A Ministry of Health senior official claimed that seeking medical services overseas is a personal choice made by the citizens of every nation, even developed countries like Japan, the US and France.

Or Vandine, ministry secretary of state and spokeswomen, made the remarks in response to criticisms of the Cambodian healthcare system during the inauguration of a Japanese hospital last week.

“People have claimed that the number of Cambodians travelling abroad for medical services suggests a weakness in the local healthcare system. Although Japan has a developed economy and quality healthcare services, Japanese people also seek medical services in countries other than Japan. Despite being the wealthiest country on the planet, US citizens often travel abroad for medical procedures. It’s the same with France,” she said.

“Many Cambodians travel abroad for healthcare, just as the people of many other countries do. It is a matter of personal choice, and we would never consider restricting people’s choices,” she added.

She explained why the health ministry licenses private sector operators to offer medical services to Cambodian citizens.

“This is done to provide effective alternatives to the public, and the private sector has now overtaken the public one,” she said.

Sok Chan Udom, deputy technical director at Sok Chea Dental Clinic in Phnom Penh, told The Post that his clinic frequently receives clients from abroad. The majority of these customers are Cambodian expatriates residing in countries such as the US, France, New Zealand or Australia.

“The primary reason that Cambodians living overseas seek out our services is because of their trust in the quality of technical services offered by our clinic. This is due to our dentists regularly receiving additional education abroad,” he said.

“In addition, the cost of dental treatment in Cambodia differs significantly compared to many developed countries, with some services costing 5 to 10 times less here than they do there,” he added.

Vandine recalled that Cambodian efforts to rebuild and develop the health sector had to start from scratch, following the destruction left behind by the Pol Pot regime.

“After the liberation on January 7, 1979, fewer than 50 low-skilled medical workers remained in Cambodia. We had to build our healthcare facilities in stages, so we cannot be compared to countries that have not experienced war,” she said.

She explained that private hospitals, clinics and medical centres have played a crucial role, and provided more options to the public.

“The selection of healthcare is dependent on the decision of the individual who requires the service, as well as their resources and possibilities. If an individual has access to more resources, they may seek out higher levels of service and technology without facing any barriers,” she added.

According to a health ministry report, as of the end of 2022, the ministry has granted licences for private investors to establish 23 hospitals, 106 polyclinics, 845 clinics, 4,462 consultative clinics, and 10,749 facilities of other types.

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, Ministry of Tourism reported that over one million Cambodians travelled abroad each year, with many of them opting to schedule medical check-ups while overseas.

Some of the most common medical tourism destinations for Cambodians include Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, China, India and South Korea.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, local healthcare and medical services played a crucial role in increasing consumer confidence in local healthcare, with Prime Minister Hun Sen frequently asserting the quality of the Kingdom’s healthcare.