By Eteena Tadjiogueu

Last week I had the opportunity to participate in the two day “Third Sub-Regional Symposium for Parliamentarians on Child Health and Sustainable Immunization Financing” in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. It was my first time visiting South East Asia and my first opportunity to witness the work of the SIF program first hand.

Day one of the symposium was filled with highly informative presentations from parliamentarians from Cambodia, Sri Lanka and Nepal as well as representatives from UNICEF, World Bank and UNDP. The agenda really got interesting on the afternoon of day one when the delegates and I were placed into small working groups, comprised of representatives from each of the three countries, and asked to discuss challenges to budget preparation oversight or legislating for immunization and health.

My group discussed the budget preparation oversight process and came up with eight challenges that hindered the process. From the list of eight we drilled down to three main challenges, first and foremost being a limited budget to support health activities. Next we discussed several options to remedy our main challenge including the potential to develop a national immunization fund, increasing the amount of money allocated to the health budget by the national government, improving the economy through boosting agriculture exports, and financing health projects through taxes.The results of each working group were shared the following morning and then delegates were placed into three country-specific working groups to develop action plans that devised components of the “Phnom Penh Declaration.”

Similar to the Kathmandu Declaration, the Phnom Penh Declaration lists out specific actions that should be taken by parliamentarians, ministers of health and finance, and government officials to ensure immunization programs are sustainably funded. For instance, bullet point number one directly alludes to what my group discussed in calling for the ministers of finance and health to increase the national immunization budget. Other points, like requesting governments to create National Immunization Acts, were developed from the results of the working groups who discussed legislating for immunization and health.

The most exciting part of the symposium came on the last day and it certainly wasn’t because the event was drawing to a close! Instead, when I saw each of the participants armed with a copy of the Phnom Penh Declaration and fully aware of the upcoming SIF colloquium where they will have to report on their progress in front of the other 14 pilot countries, I was excited about the immense amount of opportunity for change that lays ahead.

SIF Program Director Dr. Mike McQuestion told participants during the closing session that he hoped in the coming months each of the delegates would continue to work as innovative groups. Based on my conversations with several delegates in my working group, and during coffee breaks, I have no doubt that they will and I believe that the conversations and presentations on sustainable immunization financing will be even more fascinating at the SIF colloquium.

Please join us for our next entry from this series when Director Mike McQuestion writes about his experience at this Sabin-sponsored symposium in Phnom Penh event. For additional photos, please visit the event album on Flickr