Hardship financing, productivity loss, and the economic cost of illness and injury in Cambodia

Robert John Kolesar, Guido Erreygers, Wim Van Damme, Vanara Chea, Theany Choeurng, Soklong Leng

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BACKGROUND: Financial risk protection is a core dimension of universal health coverage. Hardship financing, defined as borrowing and selling land or assets to pay for healthcare, is a measure of last recourse. Increasing indebtedness and high interest rates, particularly among unregulated money lenders, can lead to a vicious cycle of poverty and exacerbate inequity.

METHODS: To inform efforts to improve Cambodia's social health protection system we analyze 2019-2020 Cambodia Socio-economic Survey data to assess hardship financing, illness and injury related productivity loss, and estimate related economic impacts. We apply two-stage Instrumental Variable multiple regression to address endogeneity relating to net income. In addition, we calculate a direct economic measure to facilitate the regular monitoring and reporting on the devastating burden of excessive out-of-pocket expenditure for policy makers.

RESULTS: More than 98,500 households or 2.7% of the total population resorted to hardship financing over the past year. Factors significantly increasing risk are higher out-of-pocket healthcare expenditures, illness or injury related productivity loss, and spending of savings. The economic burden from annual lost productivity from illness or injury amounts to US$ 459.9 million or 1.7% of GDP. The estimated household economic cost related to hardship financing is US$ 250.8 million or 0.9% of GDP.

CONCLUSIONS: Such losses can be mitigated with policy measures such as linking a catastrophic health coverage mechanism to the Health Equity Funds, capping interest rates on health-related loans, and using loan guarantees to incentivize microfinance institutions and banks to refinance health-related, high-interest loans from money lenders. These measures could strengthen social health protection by enhancing financial risk protection, mitigating vulnerability to the devastating economic effects of health shocks, and reducing inequities.

Original languageEnglish
Article number208
JournalInternational Journal for Equity in Health
Issue number1
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • Humans
  • Cambodia
  • Financing, Personal
  • Poverty
  • Income
  • Health Expenditures
  • Cost of Illness
  • Catastrophic Illness


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