Doctor Beat Richner, the prominent Swiss-born doctor credited with resurrecting the Kantha Bopha Children’s Hospitals – which have treated millions of patients free of charge since 1992 – stepped down from his more than two-decade role of managing the hospitals, citing a serious illness.
The board of the Kantha Bopha Foundation in Zurich, Switzerland, on Tuesday announced that Richner, 70, was being treated at a hospital in Switzerland.
Dr Denis Laurent, Kantha Bopha’s deputy director, confirmed that Peter Studer, vice president of the foundation’s board, has assumed responsibilities as interim head of the hospitals. Laurent declined to comment on the specifics of Richner’s illness or his current medical condition.
“We have already informed the government and the Ministry of Health, and we have no reason to stop anything,” Laurent said. “Kantha Bopha will stay exactly the same.”
In March alone, the main Kantha Bopha hospitals in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap provided outpatient treatment to 61,447 children while admitting another 11,606 severely ill children as inpatients. Nearly 1,900 children underwent surgery.
Richner was first deployed to work at Kantha Bopha by the Swiss Red Cross in 1974, according to the hospitals’ website. However, his stay was cut short when he was forced to leave the country after the Khmer Rouge invasion.
He founded the Kantha Bopha Foundation in 1992, and returned at the government’s request to rebuild the hospital after years of civil war. From 1992 to 2016, the hospitals provided treatment to nearly 18 million sick children, according to the hospitals’ statistics.
Ministry of Health spokesman Ly Sovann said he was sorry to hear Richner was ill and wished him well, but declined to comment further.
Last year, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Economy and Finance established a group to study the management of the hospitals to prepare a plan for ultimately taking them over and turning them into “government hospitals”.
Dr Sok Srun, director of the Ministry of Health’s Department of Hospital Services, who is part of the group, said they had developed a plan already, though he would not elaborate yesterday. Several other officials at both ministries couldn’t be reached for comment.
Last year, the government doubled the amount of funding it offers the hospitals annually to $6 million. On February 1, it also decided to donate $2 of every ticket sale at the Angkor Archaeological Park, which Laurent yesterday said is part of the transition.