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Open Access Research article

Social and cultural dimensions of hygiene in Cambodian health care facilities

Pascale Hancart-Petitet12*, Céline Dumas2, Anne-Laure Faurand-Tournaire2, Alice Desclaux23 and Sirenda Vong1

Author Affiliations

1 Institut Pasteur du Cambodge, Phnom Penh Cambodia

2 Groupe de Recherche Cultures, Santé, Sociétés, Université Paul Cézanne d'Aix Marseille, France

3 Institut de Recherche et Developpement (UMIR 233 « VIH/Sida et maladies associées »), Dakar, Sénégal

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BMC Public Health 2011, 11:83  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-11-83

Published: 7 February 2011



The frequency of bloodborne pathogen healthcare-associated infections is thought to be high in developing Southeast Asian Countries. The underlying social-cultural logics contributing to the risks of transmission are rarely studied. This report provides some insights on the social and cultural factors that shape hygiene practices in Cambodian health care settings.


We conducted qualitative surveys in various public and private health facilities in Phnom Penh, the capital city and in provinces. We observed and interviewed 319 participants, health care workers and patients, regarding hygiene practices and social relationships amongst the health care staff and with patients. We also examined the local perceptions of hygiene, their impact on the relationships between the health care staff and patients, and perceptions of transmission risks. Data collection stem from face to face semi-structured and open-ended interviews and focus group discussions with various health care staffs (i.e. cleaners, nurses, midwives and medical doctors) and with patients who attended the study health facilities.


Overall responses and observations indicated that hygiene practices were burdened by the lack of adequate materials and equipements. In addition, many other factors were identified to influence and distort hygiene practices which include (1) informal and formal social rapports in hospitals, (2) major infection control roles played by the cleaners in absence of professional acknowledgment. Moreover, hygiene practices are commonly seen as an unessential matter to be devoted to low-ranking staff.


Our anthropological findings illustrate the importance of comprehensive understanding of hygiene practices; they need to be considered when designing interventions to improve infection control practices in a Cambodian medical setting.