Monday, October 31, 2016

Cambodia - Enforcement a concern as health law moves forward

A doctor checks on a patient at Phnom Penh’s Calmette Hospital earlier this year. Heng Chivoan

The National Assembly on Friday passed a draft law aimed at tightening regulations on health professionals in Cambodia, with the hope that it will eventually lead to improvements in the country’s oft-maligned health care system, though some expressed scepticism yesterday as to whether the measure would work.

The draft law on the management of health professionals would apply to all those working in the field, said Chheng Kannarath, deputy secretary-general at the Medical Council of Cambodia – the sector’s independent governing body.

It includes prescriptions on the roles of professional councils, principles for health professionals’ fitness to practice, punishment for non-professionals caught practicing, and fines for unregistered or unlicensed practitioners.

The draft law will still have to go to the Senate for approval. “The law will provide solid legal ground necessary for the regulation of practices of health professionals,” Kannarath said.

Those caught operating without a licence will face up to one year in jail and a fine of up to 5 million riel, about $1,250, according to a copy of the draft law. Those whose practices are shuttered by the government and continue to practice could face up to two years in jail and a fine of up to 10 million riel.

But, Kannarath acknowledged, “The key challenge remaining is the capacity and resources of regulators to implement the law.” The individual professional councils, such as the Medical Council, the Dentistry Council and the Nursing Council, would be responsible for developing procedures and guidelines under the law. “The law allows 12 months for the councils to be ready to implement, which is not much time,” prompting some concerns, he said.

Under the draft law, a committee would be established to facilitate its implementation and would receive an unspecified amount of money over five years to do so.

Health Ministry spokesman Ly Sovann said he didn’t know how much money would be allocated for the implementation, but if it passed, the law would lead to “better services provided by the correct professionals”.

Nonetheless, Sopha Chum, executive director of the NGO Health and Development Alliance, remained sceptical yesterday that the ministry would shell out enough to make the law work, saying there are currently “not enough resources to implement” such a law if it were to pass. “Even if the law passed, I think we would see little change,” he said.

Additional reporting by Chheng Niem

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Cambodia - Ministry Tries to Reduce Infant Deaths

Health Minister Mam Bung Heng has instructed private hospitals and clinics throughout the Kingdom to establish services providing adequate care for infants with health problems in an effort to lower rates of maternal death and infant mortality.

Dated last Thursday, Mr. Bun Heng’s letter said that while his ministry continued to implement strategies to reduce deaths to both mothers and infants, it also needed collaboration from private medical establishments across the country.

The Health Ministry urged the owners of private hospitals and clinics with maternity services to create additional services to better care for infants in emergency situations.

“Directors of private clinics or private hospitals with maternity services must create services to save babies and collaborate with the capital and provincial health departments,” he said.

Leang Sreytouch, an employee at the Angkor Poly Clinic & Maternity in Phnom Penh’s Choam Chao commune, said her employer had yet to establish services to rescue newborns and had also yet to receive the ministry’s announcement.

“We will wait and see for a while. Maybe the doctor [clinic owner] will set up the service at this location, but now they are gradually processing it,” she said.

The ministry’s announcement comes after some Facebook users strongly criticized the health sector when a newborn with respiratory problems died after failing to receive medical treatment from several hospitals.

Last Tuesday, a man named Ruos Saruon wrote on Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Facebook page: “I took my newborn son who was crying and had difficulty breathing in an ambulance accompanied by two doctors to Calmette Hospital.

“They did not admit him and said there was no place. I took him to Kantha Bopha, but they also wouldn’t admit him. I took him to the National Pediatric Hospital, but it was too late and my son died.

“Samdech [Mr. Hun Sen] please check this problem, do not let Cambodian children die like this without helping just a little bit.”

Pech Sotheary

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Cambodia - The Bite of Healthy Teeth

Callum Durward, the dean of Dental Health Sciences from the International University, Cambodia spoke to Khmer Times about children’s dental health in Cambodia.

What are the dental health statistics for children in Cambodia?

Close to 100 percent of children that have dental decay develop it by the age of six – the average child in Cambodia has nine decayed teeth. So it starts at a very young age and of all these children, 95 percent do not get treatment. When children lose their baby teeth early, the permanent teeth will grow in closer together so they end up with orthodontic problems as well.

often experience toothaches, infections and have difficulty eating food that needs to be chewed, such as vegetables and meat, which can affect their general health. Some studies have shown that the body weight of children with decay is lower than other children with healthy teeth.

Why do you think so many children have dental problems here?

Firstly the early introduction of tooth brushing with fluoride toothpaste is vital for children and unfortunately in Cambodia many children do not start brushing their teeth until they get to school. Brushing should actually start as soon as the teeth come up with a small soft brush and just a smear of toothpaste.

The second one is related to diet. The weaning foods here often contain a lot of sugar, so from a very young age many children have a lot of sugar in their diet. That sugar, combined with plaque on the teeth, turns into acid and they get caries (dental decay).

Then we have the bottle feeding. Of course now everybody promotes breast feeding, which is very important, but in Cambodia there are still quite a number of mothers who are bottle feeding.

This isn’t so bad if they stop bottle feeding at one year of age. Studies in Cambodia and internationally show that children who go to bed with a bottle, especially if it is continuing over a few years, will get dental decay.

This is called early childhood caries (ECC). It starts with the upper front teeth and then spreads to the back teeth. Many children in Cambodia have this condition.

What is the key takeaway for parents?

Brush children’s teeth at least twice a day with fluoride toothpaste.

In Cambodia, we recommend adult toothpaste as it has a higher level of fluoride. There is no fluoride in the water in Phnom Penh and most of Cambodia so having that additional fluoride is very helpful considering the high decay rate. For a preschool child, just a little paste on the toothbrush is sufficient.

Try not to give young children a lot of sweet snacks and drinks especially between meals. If they are having something sweet, it is better to have it at a meal time.

If a child has decay, sugar-free chewing gum especially Xylitol gum helps prevent against caries.

Mouthwashes that contain chlorhexidine are also regarded as better for helping to remove decay.

Lastly parents should help to brush their children’s teeth up till five years of age, to ensure the teeth are thoroughly cleaned.

Karen Owens, R.N.

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Cambodia - Cambodia Tells Vietnam, Drop SPS Measures

An exhibitor at the Vietnamese Trade Fair 2016. Last year, bilateral trade between Cambodia and Vietnam was about $4 billion. KT/ Mai Vireak

Cambodia called on Vietnam yesterday to withdraw quarantine and biosecurity measures for its imports from the Kingdom to boost bilateral trade that is expected to grow to $5 billion.

“We want our trade flow [with Vietnam] to increase and also import and export tariffs to be reduced to zero. Most importantly we want Vietnam to do away with technical barriers against our exports, such as stringent sanitary and phytosanitary [SPS] measures to boost bilateral trade further,” said Secretary of State for Commerce Chhuon Dara at the Vietnamese Trade Fair 2016.

SPS measures are the World Trade Organization’s quarantine and biosecurity requirements to protect human and animal health from risks arising from the introduction of pests and diseases. It also prevents health risks arising from additives, toxins and contaminants in food and feed.

Mr. Dara said that bilateral trade between Cambodia and Vietnam was good and rising year-on-year. He pointed out that trade volume between both countries last year was about $4 billion and performance this year was encouraging.

“In the first six months of this year, alone, bilateral trade was more than $2 billion,” said Mr. Dara.

“I think that bilateral trade between Cambodia and Vietnam will soon reach $5 billion. Because of this, we have to ensure that barriers like SPS measures are removed,” he reiterated.

But Te Taing Por, president of the Federation of Association for Small and Medium Enterprises of Cambodia (FASMEC), was less optimistic and pointed out that bilateral trade was actually a one-way flow.

“Vietnam does not respect the conditions of import and export. Vietnamese products easily enter Cambodia, but it is difficult to export Cambodian products to Vietnam. There seem to be lots of hurdles,” said Mr. Taing Por.

“Asean integration is just meant on paper, but its implementation from member states is different,” Mr. Taing Por said.

According to the 2015 blueprint of the Asean Economic Community, the region as a whole must become a single market and production base to produce and commercialize goods and services anywhere in the regional grouping.

In 2015 Cambodia’s exports to Vietnam were valued at $954 million, while the Kingdom imported $2.41 billion worth of goods from Vietnam.

Cambodia’s main exports to Vietnam are seafood, corn, dried tobacco, rubber, paddy rice and cashew nuts. Vietnam’s exports to Cambodia include steel, confectionary items and cereal products, garments, products derived from rubber, vegetables and fruit, paper, metal, machinery parts, vehicles and spare parts.

Sok Chan

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Cambodia - Government Target for Eliminating HIV Pushed Back Five Years

Two years after Prime Minister Hun Sen vowed to eliminate new HIV infections by 2020, projections indicate the government will need another five years to reach its target.

Under pressure to increase government spending on HIV prevention and treatment initiatives in the face of donor funding cuts, Mr. Hun Sen declared the government would “not allow any successful program to go bankrupt” and allocated $3.7 million toward the efforts.

Compared to more than $224 committed by The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria since 2003, the number is small, but still significant for a government that has almost entirely relied on donors in the past.

While the country’s fight against HIV/AIDS has drawn international praise following a drop in the rate of infection among people aged 15 to 49—from 1.7 percent in 1998 to 0.6 percent last year—both the government and NGOs are grappling with a lack of funding and other challenges in meeting the goal.

In February, the Ministry of Health revised its plan for the elimination of new HIV infections—meaning fewer than 300 new cases being identified annually—pushing back the target date to 2025.

In a report, the ministry estimates that newly identified cases would be no higher than 474 per year by 2020 and gradually decline to a “virtual elimination of HIV transmission by 2025.”

In addition to external funding cuts, domestic migration, a lack of HIV awareness among young people and a poorly funded public health sector were contributing factors behind the decision to revise the target, UNAIDS country representative Marie-Odile Emond said on Thursday.

“The new target is by 2025 and we think there is a consensus that it’s probably realistic,” she said . “It is still five years before the global target so Cambodia would still be one of the first countries to achieve this.”

UNAIDS estimates that 73,000 Cambodians have HIV, or 0.6 percent of the adult population, and 15,000 of them have not been identified, she said.

“It’s a bigger challenge than we expected,” Ms. Emond said of reaching the elimination target. “You realize that it still requires big investments. You need to maintain the effort and at the same time adopt new approaches.”

Ly Penh Sun, director of the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Dermatology and STD, said on Wednes­day that donors had called for the government be more self-reliant and spend more of its own limited funds on prevention and treatment.

“That’s very challenging,” he said. “The transition is very difficult.”

You can find older posts regarding ASEAN politics and economics news at SBC blog, and older posts regarding health and healthcare at IIMS blog. I thank you.

Cambodia - Cambodian Zika Fears Prompt US Travel Warning

The U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) issued a travel notice on Thursday advising pregnant women to consider putting off travel to Cambodia because of possible complications from the Zika virus, though it has been six years since an infection was reported in the country.

“CDC recommends pregnant women should consider postponing non-essential travel to Southeast Asia countries with reports of Zika virus infection from local transmission or related to travel to those countries,” the advisory says.

The notice also covers Thailand, Vietnam and eight other Asian countries. The mosquito-borne and sexually transmitted virus, which can cause severe birth defects, has spread throughout the region over the past two months.

Still, the advisory notes that the “level of this risk is unknown and likely lower than in areas where Zika virus is newly introduced and spreading widely.”

The Ministry of Health could not be reached for comment on Friday. Ministry spokesman Ly Sovann said last month that the country had not reported a new case since 2010, but was not taking any chances.

“The Ministry of Health has fumigated all over cities and provinces across the country,” he said. The ministry has also launched an educational campaign on the virus using vehicles mounted with loudspeakers and banners.

You can find older posts regarding ASEAN politics and economics news at SBC blog, and older posts regarding health and healthcare at IIMS blog. I thank you.

Cambodia - Program Looks to Keep Psychologists Sane

Instructor Carrie Herbert, right, and three psychologists meet in Phnom Penh on September 24. (Rayna Stackhouse/The Cambodia Daily)

In a country with one of the world’s highest rates of psychological stress, Cambodia has a remarkably low number of psychologists, and is struggling to retain those who go to work on the front-lines of the field.

A new program at the Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP) is hoping to change that.

The sheer numbers of Cambodians coping with war-related post-traumatic stress disorder—estimated at up to a third of the adult population—and other mental illnesses, as well as abuse, exploitation and domestic violence, has created oversized workloads for the country’s trained professionals.

The potential for burnout among providers of psychiatric care is of such a concern that the university is offering a course in clinical supervision that aims to train psychologists to provide professional support to their peers treating patients across the country.

Lim Bouyheak, a 31-year-old psychologist, and 10 other students are in the first supervision class. Over six months, the students will receive classroom training and opportunities to put their skills into practice in the field.

Ms. Bouyheak knows firsthand how difficult it can be to handle an unmanageable caseload. In her first job after receiving a bachelor’s degree in psychology, she worked at the Maddox Chivan Children’s Center, a facility that actress Angelina Jolie opened for children and teenagers with HIV and AIDS.

“I felt like I was not competent to do my work because I didn’t see improvement in my children,” Ms. Bouyheak said. “Every time I went to work, I just felt exhausted and I felt like I didn’t want to do that job anymore.”

After a year, she was close to quitting, but her colleagues intervened, advising her on the importance of setting boundaries between her life and her young clients’ needs. Following their advice, Ms. Bouyheak sought professional counseling and found a better balance.

That type of intercession is just what German psychologist Bernhild Pfautsch had in mind when she proposed the training course and a program to offer a certificate in clinical supervision at RUPP.

After working as an adviser to the university’s master’s program in psychology for more than a year, she realized the students were graduating without the professional guidance that would help them succeed in their first jobs.

“Here it is so hard because they have five semesters and their internship, and they are expected to be this specialist,” Ms. Pfautsch said.

With funding from her employer, GIZ, a German development organization, Ms. Pfautsch collaborated with foreign and local psychologists in Phnom Penh to create a four-part curriculum that is the first of its kind in Cambodia. The course started in August.

During the first module, the students are learning how a supervisor should educate, evaluate and provide psychological support to those they are supervising. The remaining modules will also focus on the development of skills to help young psychologists thrive.

Retention of qualified mental health providers in Cambodia is critical for two reasons: There are far too few of them for the population’s needs, and the number of newly trained psychologists and counselors entering the field has slowed in recent years.

Studies have found that PTSD rates among Khmer Rouge survivors range from 14.2 percent to 33.4 percent—significantly higher than the 0.4 percent global prevalence, according to a mental health survey conducted in 2012 by RUPP and Transcultural Psychological Organizations, a mental health services NGO.

Seventy percent of the country’s population was born after the war, but the study still found high rates of psychological stress in that demographic. It reported that 70.2 percent of the post-war generation has experienced at least one traumatic event, such as natural disasters, life threatening accidents or witnessing someone physically attacked.

The study also found Cambodia’s suicide rate to be the second highest in the world at 42.35 per 100,000 people. In the same year, the World Health Organization reported Cambodia’s suicide rate to be 9 out of 100,000 people.

Yet the country’s budget for mental health care remains tiny. Less than 1 percent of the national health budget, or about $100,000, is allocated to the Health Ministry’s department of mental health and substance abuse excluding sal­a­ries, said Chhit So­phal, the department’s head.

According to the World Health Organization, Cambodia had 0.23 psychiatrists per 100,000 people in 2011, the last year for which such statistics are available. That compares to 1.01 psychiatrists per 100,000 people in neighboring Vietnam.

RUPP is the only university in Cambodia that offers psychology as a major. Since it began the program in 1994, it has graduated more than 1,000 psychologists. The government does not employ any of them, according to Dr. Sophal.

“We know that there are many psychologists trained from RUPP, but in the government every year we have limited budget to recruit new staff,” he said. “This is our constraint. It doesn’t mean that we don’t have a need. We need, but we don’t have budget for that.”

That leaves a majority of graduates looking for jobs at NGOs, where those in the sector say opportunities appear to be dwindling. The lack of employment pros­pects has resulted in a reduction in the number of students majoring in psychology at RUPP. Over the past five years, the number has dropped by nearly 80 percent, according to the university.

There are numerous factors affecting the department’s enrollment, said Sek Sisokhom, the chair of the psychology department, including the 40 percent reduction in the number of students passing the national high school exit exam, making them eligible for university.

Just a few years ago, the job market was more inviting. Ms. Bouyheak, who has since worked for a variety of NGOs, majored in psychology because of the post-graduation prospects. However, the thriving job market for such majors has dried up in the past 10 years, she said.

Low pay—about $200 a month for new graduates—also is a factor, she said. Of the 70 to 80 others majoring in psychology at RUPP when Ms. Bouyheak was a student, she only knows of a handful still working in the field.

A March survey by RUPP found that a third of the graduates from its master’s program in clinical psychology, which focuses on assessment and treatment, are currently working as counselors or therapists, while the rest are working as researchers, teachers in unrelated fields or have jobs in the sales and service sector.

Even though there are many challenges in the provision of mental health services in Cambodia, Ms. Bouyheak still has hope for the future, and her own ability to contribute with her newly acquired understanding of the ­profession.

“I want to be one person to support the other fresh graduates in psychology or fresh counselors,” Ms. Bouyheak said. “I just know how important it is and how much support they need. I used to be in their shoes.”

You can find older posts regarding ASEAN politics and economics news at SBC blog, and older posts regarding health and healthcare at IIMS blog. I thank you.

Cambodia - Youth Leaders Are Helping Cambodian Children Grow Up Healthy

As a child advocate, I recently had the opportunity to travel to Cambodia to see some of the work World Vision is doing to make a difference. It was also the first time I took my sons to see how many people in developing countries live. I tracked my experience in this travel journal.

Day 4: Youth Leaders Provide Hope

I am so excited to tell you about the youth leaders that I met in rural Cambodia! They are young people between the ages of about 14 to 30 years old. Sure, they get together to socialize like any youth group, but the focus of their group is more important than any other youth group I have ever heard of.

These young people are the front line of the Starting Strong program that my family helps support through World Vision for all of Cambodia.

This dynamic group is the core to teaching women, mothers and caregivers in rural areas about their options and choices, and how to raise their babies with the best-possible care.

This group of young leaders is an important support for expecting and new mothers. Photo: World Vision

Starting Strong measures and tracks the progress of pregnant mothers, babies and children up to the age of five. It is difficult to believe how little education most of the women in Cambodia have here about care for themselves during pregnancy, breastfeeding and caring for their children.

Malnutrition is also prevalent, even in families that are not considered poor. It is not an economic thing; it is an educational thing.

The focus of Starting Strong is to educate and support mothers to learn how to use local, readily available ingredients to make sure that their families have all the nutrients they need. The primary goal is to prevent stunting in children, which has a very high incidence rate. (Stunting means they don't develop and grow properly because of poor nutrition.)

If addressed before a child is two years old, the long-term physical and mental effects of stunting can be reversed.

The leaders invite the mothers to join groups that teach them about food preparation. They also have regular weighing of mothers and babies using the same growth chart that my doctor used for my kids when they were born in Canada.

It's wonderful to see how stunting can be reversed with this team approach!

There's nothing more beautiful than a healthy mom and baby! Here, I was speaking with moms at a rural health clinic. Photo: World Vision

At a rural health care facility about an hour outside of Siem Reap, Cambodia, I was able to meet mothers and babies who came for their regular weigh-ins.

This is important because it shows the mothers that their participation in the Starting Strong program is working. It's also an opportunity to identify mothers and babies who need additional support.

There were many mothers attending the weigh-in. Some of the babies were in the danger zone of the growth chart, meaning the babies had malnutrition and were at risk of stunting. Left untreated, stunted babies could have physical and mental problems for life.

Embracing education

One mother I met was new to the program and she had no prior knowledge of breast feeding. She did not know that what she ate affected the quality of her breast milk, or that a diet consisting mainly of rice, or crackers was not sufficient to prevent stunting. Her baby was underweight and malnourished. The mother was anemic and lethargic.

She very relieved though that her baby had been identified as being underweight. And this mother was very motivated to follow the food regimen that was suggested. Mostly, she was thankful for having heard about the Starting Strong program from a youth leader.

She looked forward to learning about nutrition, being taught how to cook with local, readily available ingredients to make proper nutritious food for her and her family. Without it, she feared for the quality of life her baby would have.

It brought tears to my eyes to feel her struggle. It made me thank God for the good work World Vision is doing in the Starting Strong program.

I am humbled that my family and I support this program throughout Cambodia

Day 5: How Nutrition Changes Lives

Today I got to prepare nutritious food with a women's gathering in a rural area, outside of Siem Reap, Cambodia. This is a learning and sharing opportunity for all of us.

The focus of the day is a big pot cooking over an open flame. Inside the pot is rice, meat, fish, egg, oil, clean water, peanuts, iodized salt, local pepper, herbs and lots of green leafy vegetables from local trees and shrubs. The people cook this into what they call "porridge."

This is the front line to ensure proper nutrition for mothers and their children! It tastes more like lunch to me, not breakfast porridge. The babies and young ones can't get enough of it and I get a great deal of satisfaction feeding babies!

I love to hold the babies! And to talk with the mothers who are keen to learn about what it's like to raise children in Canada. I also love to be a part of this Starting Strong program that we are partnering with World Vision Canada on to support Cambodian families and communities.

One of the mothers said to me, "As a mother of a malnourished baby, I am so thankful to be learning how to make this porridge!" She was not embarrassed, nor was there stigma, rather, she was thankful that World Vision was there to help.

You can find older posts regarding ASEAN politics and economics news at SBC blog, and older posts regarding health and healthcare at IIMS blog. I thank you.

Cambodia - Using Condoms as Evidence, Police Flout Law

Condoms on sale in Phnom Penh on Wednesday evening. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

Three years after a regulation took effect that prohibited police from using condoms as evidence of commercial sex, authorities openly admit to continuing the practice, which health experts say undermines the fight against HIV and AIDS.

The rule prevents police from using condoms as evidence of an illegal sexual transaction because it could discourage their use and fuel the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV.

Keo Thea, chief of Phnom Penh’s anti-trafficking police, who usually investigate sex crimes, admitted that his officers continued to use condoms to prove guilt.

“This is evidence,” he said. “We need to think about what the condoms are used for.”

“For example, this place has been thoroughly investigated and found to be providing massages and sex services…and for the used and unused condoms we just confirmed condoms were placed there to offer sex,” he said. “That’s when they consider it as evidence.”

Yet such law enforcement techniques are explicitly banned by Prakas 66, which is meant to ensure that safe sex is prioritized above investigative expediency, allowing sex workers and their clients to carry and use condoms without worrying that it might make them more vulnerable to arrest or prosecution.

Still, Mr. Thea said condoms were essential evidence when used for illegal activities.

“A knife in our house, it is a tool for cutting fish and vegetables,” he said. “But if a person holds that knife and stabs a person…this knife becomes a weapon. It becomes evidence to confirm the crime.”

The enduring issue was among various topics raised on Wednesday at a meeting of government and NGO representatives as an example of one of the obstacles hindering efforts to combat HIV and AIDS and promote the use of condoms.

Pea Phauly, a program officer for health services NGO Family Health International 360, said police were regularly using condoms as evidence throughout the country.

“It is quite common in Phnom Penh and Battambang, Siem Reap and Banteay Meanchey,” Dr. Phauly said, noting a case in Phnom Penh earlier this month and another in Pursat province a couple of months ago.

“There is some level of negative impact because people…fear having condoms in their place, especially in a house or a karaoke place,” he said.

Ieng Mouly, head of the government’s National AIDS Authority, said it had received repeated complaints about police flouting the proclamation, but that officials had always denied it.

“They said that there was a problem with police using condoms as evidence to charge the people, the owners, but when we talk to the police they explained that they may find condoms, but they never use them as evidence,” he said.

Sex workers, along with gay men and intravenous drug users, are among three groups that the government and health organizations have identified as being the most vulnerable to HIV and AIDS, and therefore are priority targets in efforts to prevent the virus from spreading.

The country’s fight against HIV has been heralded as an international success, with the rate of infection among people aged 15 to 49 dropping from a peak of 1.7 percent in 1998 to just 0.6 percent last year, according to the government.

Reaching and protecting the most vulnerable groups has become a priority in the latest strategy, developed largely by health NGOs and implemented by the government’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Dermatology and STD.

Ly Penh Sun, the center’s director, said police tactics were not the most pressing concern, complaining that a drop in external funding in the fight against HIV and AIDS was leaving the country without the resources needed to reach its target of eliminating new cases.

“Initially we wanted to eliminate new infections by 2020,” he said. “Now we think that is not really possible because we are challenged with financial reductions from outside, because Cambodia is still very poor.”

You can find older posts regarding ASEAN politics and economics news at SBC blog, and older posts regarding health and healthcare at IIMS blog. I thank you.

Brunei - Minister launches country’s 1st commercial biotech facility

Pehin Datu Singamanteri Colonel (Rtd) Dato Seri Setia (Dr) Awang Haji Mohammad Yasmin bin Haji Umar, the Minister of Energy and Industry at the Prime Minister’s Office, in a group photo with the local staff of MC Biotech Sdn Bhd and officials. – Photos: James Kon

BRUNEI Darussalam will be producing natural Astaxanthin, a highly valuable nutraceutical ingredient from the cultivation of microalgae following the launch of MC Biotech Sdn Bhd, the first commercial biotechnology facility in the country.

The move will contribute to the diversification of economy and create employment for locals.

With an investment of BND20 million, MC Biotech – a subsidiary of Mitsubishi Corporation and Nissui – was officially launched by Pehin Datu Singamanteri Colonel (Rtd) Dato Seri Setia (Dr) Awang Haji Mohammad Yasmin bin Haji Umar, the Minister of Energy and Industry at the Prime Minister’s Office yesterday afternoon.

Located at the Bio-Innovation Corridor in Kampong Tungku, MC Biotech is expected to produce 18 metric tonnes of the biomass annually to be exported to Japan for final processing.

Plans are in the pipeline to build a final processing plant besides MC Biotech in order to produce the finished products locally.

Pehin Datu Singamanteri Colonel (Rtd) Dato Seri Setia (Dr) Awang Haji Mohammad Yasmin said, “Today, we witness another significant milestone with the opening of MC Biotech and the ‘Sinar Suria Bio Center’ located here at the Bio-Innovation Corridor, an industrial park geared to attract halal and bio-industry related investments.

“This marks Brunei Darussalam’s first steps towards embracing developments in industrial biotechnology. The opportunity it presents to Brunei Darussalam is that it allows us to tap into our target industries in new, sustainable ways. We hope that the Bio-Innovation Corridor will grow in the coming years for a vibrant bio-industry to flourish.”

On tapping into the global Halal market, the minister said, “I understand that at present, MC Biotech is still in the process of researching and developing an alternative production process in order to comply with these standards. As such, MC Biotech needs to closely work with the relevant government agencies to achieve this aim.”

Citing to a Thomas Reuters report, he said, “The value of the global Halal pharmaceuticals sector is worth US$72 billion. Hence, the opportunities are endless in this sector. Brunei Darussalam wants to emerge as a leading Halal pharmaceutical producer and exporter in Asean and eventually worldwide. With the Brunei Halal certification and branding, we can do so much more. Here I strongly suggest for MC Biotech to work with Simpor Pharma, Brunei’s first pharmaceutical plant, to find opportunities that would result in the export of Halal pharmaceutical and health supplements worldwide from Brunei Darussalam.”

MC Biotech, the minister said, “is the pioneer in the cultivation of micro-algae for the extraction of Astaxanthin in Brunei Darussalam. Astaxanthin is not only known for its wide use as a natural food-dye, but also for its antioxidant and clear health benefits.”

In 2014, the global market value for Astaxanthin was estimated at $447 million US dollars and is expected to grow rapidly to $1.1 billion US dollars by 2020, he said. “There are certainly great opportunities here for MC Biotech to tap into this growth.”

On attracting foreign direct investment (FDI), the minister said, “What we really need are FDIs, which are able to create value-added products and services in Brunei Darussalam, and to collaborate together with the government agencies and local micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs). We invite FDIs from across the supply chain to allow the development of robust in-country value chains and industrial ecosystems. We need FDIs to be able to work further downstream to ensure that most of the bioprocessing is carried out in Brunei Darussalam. This can, in turn, create and generate capital, spin-offs in the local market, employment opportunities, and ultimately, diversify and boost the Brunei economy.”

Yuki Kaneda, the Executive Director of MC Biotech Sdn Bhd, said, “Mitsubishi Corporation’s involvement in the project stems from our long experience and presence in Brunei since 1960s with a wish to expand into more diversified industries particularly in the Life Science industry in line with the Brunei Government’s desire.”

MC Biotech Sdn Bhd, he said, is “our first role and mission is to produce natural Astaxanthin from the cultivation of microalgae. Astaxanthin is a natural occurring red pigment; rich in antioxidants those are beneficial in antiageing for human being. It is a highly valuable nutraceutical ingredient often used as a key ingredient for health beverages, healthcare supplements and cosmetic products.”

He said he hoped that MC Biotech can be a pioneer in biotechnology and life science industry in Brunei to pave the way into related downstream opportunities, creating employment, training as well as research and eventually tapping into the global Halal market.

James Kon

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