Celebrating the vaccine champions on World Health Day

On World Health Day we shine a spotlight on the exceptional healthcare workers ensuring Cambodians are safely vaccinated and protected from COVID-19

Jaime Gill
06 April 2021
©UNICEF Cambodia/2021/Bunsak But
UNICEF Cambodia/2021/Bunsak But


“Protection is a step by step process,” says Doctor Sem Sony. Dr. Sony was one of the first wave of Cambodian doctors to be trained in management and administering of the new COVID-19 vaccines, and has spent weeks working on the frontlines providing medical advice to patients who have come in to get vaccinated. “The first step was getting vaccinated myself, because that protects me and my family. Then I can do my job and help protect other families. And that ultimately protects whole communities.”

Dr. Sony’s recent experiences have left her particularly committed to the fight against COVID-19. She spent most of 2020 working in France, one of the countries to be hit hardest and earliest by the pandemic, and wants to help protect Cambodia from similar rates of severe illness. “Here, the economy has been very badly hit. These vaccines can help us recover, but there will be challenges ahead, and barriers. It’s a new vaccine and that means there will be rumours. What I can do is provide the facts, the real science. I really believe in science.”

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UNICEF Cambodia/2021/Bunsak But


“I wasn’t nervous about the vaccine at all, it’s a normal thing if you’re a medical student,” smiles Noeun Rima, ten minutes after being vaccinated. Mr Noeun is a 25 year old medical student who is placed at higher risk of infection through his role as an intern. Although Mr Noeun now feels optimistic, he admits that the last year hasn’t always been easy. “Things were sometimes hard. My studies were interrupted and I had to spend more time stuck at home than I wanted.”

“I decided to become a doctor because in this country, medicine isn’t advanced everywhere. Urban areas have good equipment and doctors, but in rural areas like where I grew up good facilities and good medical staff are rarer. I want to change that. I believe everyone should benefit from good healthcare and that’s why I want to see the vaccine reach out not just to priority groups but to all Cambodians, helping my country become safe again.”

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UNICEF Cambodia/2021/Chansereypich Seng


“COVID-19 has changed everything in Cambodia, the impact is much bigger than expected,” says Doctor Rathmony Hong, UNICEF Health Specialist . UNICEF is supporting the Ministry of Health with its COVID-19 vaccination operations, including in the areas of supply and cold chain management, logistics, planning, monitoring, risk communication, and community engagement, with generous support from the Czech Republic, Hong Kong UNICEF National Committee, COVAX/GAVI and Government of Japan. “It’s not just health, it’s the economy and our society. Before this virus, if a friend got sick, you would visit them to support them. But now we are scared even to do that.”

“The good news is that the vaccines have arrived now, they are a very important tool to manage this pandemic. Of course there are still challenges. There are global challenges, when countries are all competing for vaccines. And there are national challenges, like making sure the vaccines go out from Phnom Penh and into the arms of people across the country. Finally, there are individual challenges, trying to make everyone feel confident enough to take the vaccine. But I can say from experience that this is a good one. I’m actually hypersensitive to vaccines myself, the flu shot made me sick for a week. But this one gave me no problems, and  I feel positive about the future.”

©UNICEF Cambodia/2021/Bunsak But
UNICEF Cambodia/2021/Bunsak But
Doctor Oung Sophal, the Deputy Principal of Cambodia’s National Pediatric Hospital.


“If I hadn’t been a doctor and very busy, I might have gone into a depression about the situation over the last year,” says Oung Sophal, the Deputy Director of Cambodia’s National Pediatric Hospital. “I’ve been here when there was a dengue outbreak, and we had 900 patients, when our capacity is just 350. It was bad. Ever since the pandemic began I’ve worried about what would happen if the infection rates got worse. How could we have managed?”

Fortunately, Dr. Oung was able to take positive action when he was placed in charge of establishing one of the earliest COVID-19 vaccination sites, with the role of ensuring Phnom Penh’s healthcare staff were protected. “Now I am looking forward to the day when everyone is vaccinated. That’s when the country will really start to recover. I also hope people don’t forget all these precautions they have learnt, because washing hands stops so many other diseases. If we stay well we can keep the economy growing and that makes for a happier and better developed country.”