This article analyses the design and implementation process of arrangements for health care provision and access to health care in Cambodia. It points to the complexity of shaping a coherent social policy in a low-income country heavily dependent on international aid.
At a theoretical level, we confirm that ideas, interests and institutions are all important factors in the construction of Cambodian health care schemes. However, we demonstrate that trying to hierarchically organise these three elements to explain policy making is not fruitful.
Regarding the methodology, interviews with forty-eight selected participants produced the qualitative material for this study. A documentary review was also an important source of data and information.
The study produces two sets of results. First, Cambodian policy aimed at the development of health care arrangements results from a series of negotiations between a wide range of stakeholders with different objectives and interests. International stakeholders, such as donors and technical organisations, are major players in the policy arena where health policy is constructed. Cambodian civil society, however, is rarely involved in the negotiations.
Second, the Cambodian government makes political decisions incrementally. The long-term vision of the Cambodian authorities for improving health care provision and access is quite clear, but, nevertheless, day-to-day decisions and actions are constantly negotiated between stakeholders. As a result, donors and non-government organisations (NGOs) working in the field find it difficult to anticipate policies.
To conclude, despite real autonomy in the decision-making process, the Cambodian government still has to prove its capacity to master a number of risks, such as the (so far under-regulated) development of the private health care sector.