I feel strongly compelled to respond to Christine Chaumeau's back page article
entitled "Kantha Bopha II... and the Beat goes on" which appeared in the
18-30 October edition of the Post. As a reader of your newspaper since 1992, I have
been able to follow the progress of Dr Beat Richner. One thing that has become increasingly
obvious over the years is the overt and more insidious professional jealousy invariably
heaped upon Dr Richner by what I hope is a shrinking minority of misplaced expat
health workers in Cambodia.
Without getting personal, the criticism leveled at Dr Richner by a few multilaterally-funded
technocrats working in Phnom Penh, largely resulting from Dr Richner's remarkable
success at bringing quality medical care to Cambodians, is disgusting but not at
all surprising. Talking about a "problem that is more complex than just building
five hospitals" is typical UN-speak designed to first, relate that a problem,
in this case providing national health services to Cambodia, requires extensive study,
detailed analysis and limitless senior-level consultations to be accurately understood
and addressed, and two, justify the very existence of the UN and other groups that
are charged with undertaking such studies, analyses and consultations are usually
at unconscionable expense.
Unfortunately this all-too-serious know-it-all attitude, which smacks of condescension,
is still pervasive within many well-intentioned but often misled international organizations
operating in Cambodia, including the supposed reform-minded UN.
The shameful lack of substantive progress on the health front in Cambodia since the
UN-sponsored elections in May 1993 demands the participation of more courageous and
determined people like Switzerland's Dr Richner. While Dr Richner's detractors are
quick to provide noble-sounding excuses for their own organizations' failures and
incompetence, such as "what we need is primary health centers... to put health
care where the people live", essentially providing lip-service to the new-found
UN grassroots mandate, poverty stricken Cambodians across the country are still dying
from treatable ailments. While many desperate Cambodians often travel day-and-night
to expressly visit hospitals in Phnom Penh, some foreigners who dare call themselves
health professionals feel inclined to moralize and pontificate.
With the witticism "maybe it's better to upgrade all the shit", in reference
to Cambodia's pathetic health facilities, coming from an unnamed doctor (really?)
representing an international organization, it is little wonder that Dr Richner's
motivation is multi-faceted and seemingly ceaseless, and additional Kantha Bophas
are in the works.
- Robert Sheridan, Bangkok, Thailand.