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Date: 17 Aug 2012

The social determinants of health and health service access: an in depth study in four poor communities in Phnom Penh Cambodia

Abstract

Background

Increasing urbanization and population density, and persisting inequities in health outcomes across socioeconomic groupings have raised concerns internationally regarding the health of the urban poor. These concerns are also evident in Cambodia, which prompted the design of a study to identify and describe the main barriers to access to health services by the poor in the capital city, Phnom Penh.

Sources and Methods

Main sources of data were through a household survey, followed by in-depth qualitative interviews with mothers, local authorities and health centre workers in four very poor communities in Phnom Penh.

Main findings

Despite low incomes and education levels, the study communities have moderate levels of access to services for curative and preventive care. However, qualitative findings demonstrate that households contextualize poor health and health access in terms of their daily living conditions, particularly in relation to environmental conditions and social insecurity. The interactions of low education, poor living conditions and high food costs in the context of low and irregular incomes reinforce a pattern of “living from moment to moment” and results in a cycle of disadvantage and ill health in these communities. There were three main factors that put poor communities at a health disadvantage; these are the everyday living conditions of communities, social and economic inequality and the extent to which a society assesses and acts on inequities in their health care access.

Conclusions

In order to improve access to health and health services for the urban poor, expansion of public health functions and capacities will be required, including building partnerships between health providers, municipal authorities and civil society.