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Close to 300 Cambodian doctors, nurses, and midwives have gained critical new surgical and anesthesia skills, under the Safe Surgery 2020 initiative launched in Cambodia two years ago. Critical equipment for surgical procedures has also been provided to various hospitals and health facilities as part of the program, and these measures together, have significantly improved surgical care for patients in need.
Safe Surgery 2020, funded by the GE Foundation and developed in a partnership with the Ministry of Health and the Calmette Hospital in Phnom Penh, was introduced to make critical health care available to many more patients in need throughout Cambodia. As surgery is required to treat many diseases, traumas, and obstetric emergencies, providing modern surgical care and treatments nationwide brings significant social and economic benefits.
The Safe Surgery 2020 “train the trainer” model, the core of the project in Cambodia, upskills doctors, nurses, and midwives and also provides them with tools and programs to train their teams - especially colleagues located in remote parts of the country bringing better care and treatment to patients.
In support of the Government’s aspiration to increase access to health care and provide universal health coverage in the future, the training programs focus on improving leadership, problem solving, data collection and analysis, and equipment sterilization best practices.
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 in the near future 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".
Safe Surgery 2020 training programs are run at a specially constructed Center of Excellence in surgical care in Calmette Hospital, and eight training sessions have been held since February 2019. “Reducing deaths and disability related to preventable and surgically treatable conditions is a 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 nationwide - coupled with cooperation and input from a coalition of government, civil-society and the private sector partners - offers a practical plan and strategy to improve the provision of quality healthcare nationwide. Cambodia for example, is ranked 146 out of 192 countries today, with only 419 surgeries performed per 100.000 people.
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 coordinated by the Safe Surgery 2020 partners, 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.
Tackling the often-unglamorous work of improving health systems yields both the immediate benefit of access to safer surgery, and long-term benefits in a crisis—saving lives. 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, General Electric 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.
About Safe Surgery 2020
Surgery is a critical component of universal healthcare, but for too many it is out of reach. To address the critical challenges to global health, a group of partners in the global health space launched the Safe Surgery 2020 initiative in 2015.
The GE Foundation committed a catalytic USD 25 million in funding and Assist International, Jhpiego, the Harvard Medical School’s Program in Global Surgery and Social Change and Dalberg have been leading partners throughout the five-year initiative. Further, Safe Surgery 2020 is a collaboration of experts, implementers, educational institutions, and local governments who wanted to make surgery safe, affordable, and accessible across the world.
To drive change, Safe Surgery 2020 is built on four pillars: 1) advocating for policy, 2) strengthening and supporting the surgical workforce, 3) testing and scaling innovations, and 4) sharing insights and elevating surgery.
Currently the model has been rolled out in Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Cambodia.
 Health Strategic Plan 2016-2020
 Safe Surgery 2020 year-end report 2019.
 Source: World Bank Database, Asia Pacific Observatory on Health Systems and Policies, ‘The Kingdom of Cambodia Health System Review’, 2015)