One of the most impoverished countries in Southeast Asia, Cambodia is prey to the health problems that arise from malnutrition and inadequate sanitation, including diarrhea, respiratory infections, and dengue fever, as well as those that could be prevented by an adequate vaccination program, such as tuberculosis. The 1970–75 war and the 1975–79 upheaval exacerbated many of these problems. Malnutrition became widespread among the millions driven to Phnom Penh in the wake of the fighting and who were driven out of that city when the Khmer Rouge took over. Tens of thousands died from shortages of food and medical facilities and supplies. Cambodia had only 50 physicians in 1979.
In 1995 the government mapped out a new public health program, which was only partly implemented as of 2000. As of 1999, total health care expenditure was estimated at 6.9% of GDP.
Life expectancy in Cambodia in 2000 was 54 years and the 1999 birth rate was 41 per 1,000 people. The infant mortality rate was 88 per 1,000 live births in 1999 and the maternal death rate was high as well; 470 women died in childbirth or pregnancy per 100,000 live births (as of 1998). The general mortality rate was estimated at 11 per 1,000 in 2002. Dysentery, malaria, tuberculosis (in 1999, 560 reported cases per 100,000 people), trachoma, and yaws are widespread. In 2000, 30% of the population had access to safe drinking water and only 18% had adequate sanitation. Prior to 1975 there were 3 hospitals, with 7,500 beds (about 1 bed for every 893 persons). During 1979–81, 7 large hospitals and 3 pharmaceutical factories opened. As of 1999, there were an estimated 0.3 physicians and 2.1 hospital beds per 1,000 people.
AIDS spread rapidly in Cambodia during the latter half of the 1990s. The HIV prevalence rate rose from 0.1% in 1991 to 4% in 1999. As of 1999, the number of people living with HIV/AIDS was estimated at 220,000 and deaths from AIDS that year were estimated at 14,000. Eighty percent of the urban population and only 50% of the rural population had access to health services between 1985 and 1995. As of 2000, an estimated 53% of children under five were malnourished. The 1999 immunization rates for children up to one year old were diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus, 49%, and measles, 55%.