The National Social Protection Council, development partners, and civil society organizations have joined forces to launch a nationwide outreach campaign to educate people in remote areas about the forms of social protection available to them, including equity cards, cash transfer programs for pregnant women, and health funds.
Chhour Sopanha, director of the Social Affairs Ministry’s social welfare department, said the public’s lack of understanding surrounding social benefit programs is a problem. Citizens who don’t understand how the equity card works instead blame the authorities or the hospitals when they can’t afford services.
“They sometimes receive an equity card but they tear it up, or lose it. As a result, when they require urgent medical treatment, they do not take the card,” he said. “When people don’t know, they lose the benefits, and when they understand, it makes life easier for them.”
However, he said there are positive signs. After the ministry implemented the cash subsidy program for pregnant women and children under 2-years-old in 2020, it was widely rolled out and people were informed about how it worked. And, when the Ministry announced a cash subsidy scheme for poor and vulnerable families during COVID-19 the same year, that saw similar success.
Theng Savoeun, president of the Coalition of Cambodia Farmer Community Association (CCFC), said his organization also participated in a campaign to promote the importance of equity cards, cash transfer programs for pregnant women, and the Health Equity Fund.
He told CamboJA, “They can use this health fund card to get free treatment. It helps reduce people’s spending on health issues.”
However, he said most ordinary people are still unaware of the equity cards, noting: “Equity cards are not widely available, especially among smallholder farmers in the food sector.”
Het Nay, President of O’Rumduol Land Community, said that in April he held a meeting to educate people living in Preah Vihear Province’s Mlou Prey 1 Commune in Chhep District about the equity cards, which was attended by about 40 people.
Most of those in attendance didn’t know about the cards, he said, as authorities had not convened a meeting to inform the community about it.
“The authorities choose the recipients of the equity card, and there is no evaluation. When people are unsure what to do with their cards, or when they are sick, the poor go to relatives or the bank for help,” he said.
Seng Sokhoeun, a 26-year-old farmer who took part in the equity card promotion campaign in Mlou Prey village said she’d been unaware of the equity card and when her children were sick, she didn’t have the financial means to seek treatment.
However, after she understood how to utilize the equity card, it significantly reduced the financial pressure on her family.
“When my children and I were sick, I used this card, and the hospital never took any money. And when I went for a pregnancy check, I took the card and then they gave me back a yellow card for the cash transfer for pregnant mothers. It also reduced my difficulties,” she said.
According to an Oxfam study on Cambodia’s citizens’ awareness and access to information about social protection schemes, 54% of respondents were aware of the cash transfer for pregnant mothers, and 41% knew about the health equity fund.