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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Hospital in repayment of 1970s Western debt

Hospital in repayment of 1970s Western debt

S WISS doctor Beat Richner believes that building a second pediatric hospital

"Kantha Bopha II" on the grounds of the Royal Palace is not "aid" - it is part

of the reparations the West owe Cambodia for the Indochinese

War.

"Everything that has happened here as a consequence of the 1970s is

because of the West," Richner said.

He said even the diseases the Khmer

children suffer - diseases which fill to overflowing the 240-bed capacity of his

first hospital "Kantha Bopha I" - were caused by the mistakes of the

West.

"What I am doing is just part of the reparations," he

said.

Richner had a long hard slog to get the land for this second

hospital, after "either the Japanese government or the Cambodian government

through the Ministry of Health" blocked attempts to get land next to his first

hospital.

When King Sihanouk heard of his plight, he offered a piece of

the Royal Palace grounds - ironically that occupied by the Khmer Rouge during

their brief flirt with legitimacy before the UN-sponsored elections.

The

hospitals - named after a daughter of the King who died of leukemia in 1952 -

would be a boon to Khmer children, he said.

The King, speaking after

laying the Foundation Stone in a ceremony on June 26, said he wanted to help the

many Cambodian children who were now suffering the effects of many years of

wars.

"We are very poorly equipped with health services in this country;

we do need a lot hospitals and staff," the King said.

Richner said that

Kantha Bopha II would have 164 beds, an outpatient clinic, a preevention center,

and an intensive care unit with 34 beds.

Kantha Bopha I had 240 beds,

though the hospital regularly slept 260 severely ill children.

Kantha

Bopha II would cost up to $1.5 million to build; another $700,000 for

installation of x-rays and laboratories; and cost about $7,000 a day to

run.

Kantha Bopha I cost $10,000 a day to run, and had 380 Khmer staff

and ten ex-pats.

Richner, a tireless worker for funds to keep his

hospitals functioning, said his Swiss Foundation had already approved the first

years budget for building Kantha Bopha II after the King's offer of land was

accepted.

"We always want more money," he said.

"The Thai

Ambassador just gave us a cheque for $100,000 from the Thai King. If every state

of America did the same, we would have enough to build Kantha Bopha II and keep

both hospitals running for a year," he said.

Last year Kantha Bopha I

could not provide treatment to every sick child who arrived, he said.

"We

have to select those children who are very sick to be treated first; and the

rest can only be treated as outpatients or as consultations." Richner said some

people were not satisfied when the hospital would not provide help to every

child. "We can not solve this problem as it happens every day. But, now, this is

very fortunate," he said of the new hospital.

Building will begin on

Kantha Bopha II probably after the rainy season.

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