Safe Surgery 2020 Brings New Focus on Surgical Healthcare Services in Cambodia and the Region

To improve surgical healthcare services for patients across Cambodia, the Safe Surgery 2020 initiative, launched in 2018, received support from nurses and anesthesia providers from Thailand to help train almost 300 doctors, nurses, and midwives in critical surgical and anesthesia skills. The knowledge transfer and collaboration between the two countries and the initiative’s results show great potential for improved healthcare in the region.

Safe Surgery 2020, funded by the GE Foundation and developed in a partnership with the Cambodia Ministry of Health and the Calmette Hospital in Phnom Penh, was introduced to make critical health care available to many more patients throughout Cambodia. As surgery is required to treat many diseases and emergencies, providing modern surgical care and treatments brings significant social and economic benefits.

A key component in Safe Surgery 2020 has been the “Train the Trainer” model. The ‘Train the Trainer’ model focusses on doctors, nurses, and midwives and provides them with tools to train their colleagues located in remote parts of the Cambodia, bringing better care and treatment to patients. Strengthening the knowledge transfer between Thailand and Cambodia, some of the Safe Surgery 2020 trainings were supported by members of the World Federation of Societies of Anaesthesiologists’ network in Thailand.

Commenting on the program’s progress so far, HE Professor Mam Bunheng, Minister of Health said, “We partnered with Safe Surgery 2020 to provide new and innovative training opportunities to our health staff. Our ambition was to support and speed up the roll out of universal health coverage as a key commitment of the Government of Cambodia. We are excited about the results and I believe the knowledge and expertise now housed at the Calmette Hospital can benefit patients across the country”.

The Calmette Hospital in Phnom Penh has been the center for the training programs and eight training sessions have been held since February 2019. “Reducing deaths and disability related to preventable and surgically treatable conditions is key to improving health for the people of Cambodia. We are proud to be part of Safe Surgery 2020 as a Center of Excellence and see a great potential in training even more health staff around the country in the future,” said Prof. Chheang Ra, Director General, Calmette Hospital.  

Moving forward setting-up a central hub of knowledge and expertise to train health workers offers a practical plan and strategy to improve the provision of quality healthcare not only in Cambodian, but potentially also in the region.

The positive benefits of Safe Surgery 2020 were emphasized by Cheri Reynolds, Director of Global Health and Program Development at Assist International, a key partner of Safe Surgery 2020. “The crucial investments in health systems strengthening, not only strengthens the health systems’ ability to immediately provide safe surgery, but it provides the infrastructure to respond swiftly and effectively to other health emergencies such as the current Coronavirus pandemic. We know from our work in Southeast Asia that access to safe surgical and anesthesia care is an immense challenge. However, the project in Cambodia showed us it is possible to improve this and we see a great potential to expand such services in the region based on our learnings from Cambodia”.

From the GE Foundation’s perspective, Dararith Lim, Country Leader, GE Cambodia said Safe Surgery 2020 is an important and impactful next step that builds on the excellent work and outcomes delivered by previous healthcare programs. “This investment in much-needed surgery modernization by the GE Foundation is the latest initiative — over the past 10 years — to provide quality and accessible healthcare to underserved and isolated rural communities across Southeast Asia, including Cambodia. Including Safe Surgery 2020, the $12 million in funding to Cambodia from the GE Foundation over the past several years has been used to address a host of urgent needs including purchasing modern medical equipment, developing a biomedical engineering equipment technician training program with Duke University and Engineering World Health, and sponsoring water purification systems and training for various hospitals. So far, the programs have supported more than 40 hospitals in 25 provinces“.

The partnership between the Calmette Hospital and Safe Surgery 2020 was established during the UN General Assembly in September 2018, when the GE Foundation and the Ministry of Health of Cambodia, committed to work together to modernize surgical care and make it accessible to many communities — an important, relevant and timely goal in a region where 97% of people are either unable, or have great difficulty, accessing safe surgical care.