WHO: Cambodia Reboots Its COVID-19 Response Strategy and Measures

The following is a statement of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Representative Office for Cambodia AKP received yesterday evening:

“Cambodia is in a new phase of the pandemic in which decreasing case numbers, high vaccination coverage, and a more transmissible circulating variant threaten a hidden surge. The government has thus rebooted its approach with an evidence-based and more focused strategy to suppress transmission, minimise social disruptions, and protect the people.

As of 5 September, more than 95,000 cases and 1,900 deaths have been reported. The daily reported numbers of both cases and deaths have been declining for several weeks. The declines have been reported across most provinces.

As cases have declined, vaccination coverage has increased. As of 5 September 2021, more than 95% of the originally 10-million target population in Cambodia have received at least one dose, including 98% of health care workers fully vaccinated, 95% of older people with one dose, and 77% of older people with two doses. The vaccination rollout has reached many vulnerable populations living in remote areas and those with underlying health conditions as well. Vaccinations are reducing severe disease, hospitalizations, and deaths due to COVID-19.

Although the data indicate an improving situation, the risk of a surge of COVID-19 is very high. Like many countries, Cambodia has been racing against more transmissible variants throughout 2021. The alpha variant was detected early in the year and dominated most of the outbreak. Recently, delta was detected among migrants returning through land borders and has now been detected among residents of most provinces.

More effective implementation of public health and social measures and the speedy vaccine rollout have reduced transmission; yet, 20 months into the pandemic, people are weary. They struggle to comply with movement restrictions. Many pinned their hopes on the early arrival of vaccines and their rapid rollout. The success of the vaccines in preventing severe disease could mean that transmission continues undetected. These factors tend to lead people to drop their guard and return to the old ways of interacting with one another, ways through which a very transmissible variant can wreak havoc.

In mid-2021, with the support of the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Royal Government of Cambodia, particularly its Ministry of Health, initiated efforts to reflect on the strategy to curb new surges. The joint Ministry of Health-WHO missions engaged all provinces to explore successes and challenges of their response and generate feasible solutions to suppress transmission and promote health and socio economic recovery in this new phase. The joint mission complemented these engagements with analyses on virus transmission, cluster analyses, and assessments of the effectiveness of public health and social measures in Cambodia.

The resulting strategy is a response reboot. It outlines priorities for suppressing transmission that centre on the Cambodian core value of keeping families and communities safe.

‘An impressive part of the Royal Government of Cambodia's strategy is that risk-based decision-making is being applied together with insights into the Cambodian context, including social and cultural dimensions,’ said Dr. Li Ailan, WHO Representative to Cambodia. ‘For example, recent social listening research shows that in Cambodia people worry more about the health of their loved ones than their own. This is a powerful motivator to make individual right choices to take COVID-19 measures for protecting their family and community,’ said Dr. Li.

To strengthen and advance Cambodia's community engagement system, including citizen participation on COVID-19 and beyond, WHO supported the Ministry of Health (MoH) and local authorities, technically and financially, to launch renewed community engagement initiatives in nine provinces in August 2021.

The initiative moves beyond awareness and education to empowering people with information and decision-making tools to make the right choices that protect their lives and livelihoods. It integrates the health and beyond-health sectors, including mobilisation and participation of community leaders, village chiefs, religious leaders, school principals, and more importantly people in the community. For example, the Commune Committee for Women and Children (CCWC), among other existing community systems, are being strengthened for COVID-19 prevention, preparedness and response in the community.

Provinces have also been mobilising non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to work together to support communities.

Another important factor in the strategy is the emphasis on local leadership, local innovative solutions, local ownership, and accountability. Practical examples of local solutions include changing the layout of open-air markets. In Kandal province, local leaders moved a market onto a sports field while limiting the number of shoppers to ensure physical distancing. In Siem Reap, local leaders spread a market was along a road to ensure optimal distancing.

To encourage public participation and motivate everyone to adhere with critical public health and social measures in the context of new variants, the Ministry of Health through the Sub-Committee on Education, Training, and Public Communication of the Inter-ministerial Committee to Fight COVID-19 has recently launched a nationwide communication campaign under the theme of ‘Acting together to stop COVID-19 transmission’. A key aspect of this campaign is community engagement and individual responsibility and right choice for preventing the spread of virus in household and community.

The priorities of the strategy are to pause 3Cs (closed spaces, crowded places, and close-contact) settings until transmission is suppressed; to implement the 3 Dos and 3 Don'ts (wear a mask, wash hands regularly, maintain distance of at least 1.5 meters, avoid confined and enclosed spaces, avoid crowded spaces, and avoid touching each other); to prevent and prepare for a successful ‘circuit breaker’ (i.e. movement restriction); to safely open low-risk businesses while preparing higher risk businesses to implement risk mitigation measures before opening; to limit non-essential travel and gatherings; and to make monitoring and compliance systems fully functional.

No community is safe until every community is safe. The Pandemic affects every province and every community; so, everyone must play their role responsibly. Our society's safety is based on individual actions. Only then can we curb the spread of COVID-19 and look forward to a brighter future. This adjusted strategy and measures, with individual and collective actions, will help give Cambodia a new hope and the best chance of winning this fight against COVID-19.

As we implement the response strategy and measures, we must continue to strengthen the health-system response to detect and responds to outbreaks, through (1) early detection and targeted non pharmaceutical interventions; (2) expanded and efficient health care capacities and pathways, especially intensive care unit capacity; and (3) vaccinating 100% of the vulnerable and eligible populations.”

Source: Agency Kampuchea Press