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Crunch time for overcrowded children's hospital

Crunch time for overcrowded children's hospital

Mothers with children await their turn to see a doctor.

D

octor Beat Richner, founder and head of three children's hospitals in Cambodia,

has accused the Minister of Health of contributing to an overcrowding crisis at the

Kantha Bopha 1 Hospital in Phnom Penh , and warned that it might have to close.

His comments came after a public spat between Dr Richner and Minister Hong Sun Huot

about a severe lack of space at the hospital, which is located near Wat Phnom. He

said the minister's refusal to grant more land had caused an emergency which he could

no longer tolerate.

"We have a life and death situation here - [the hospital is] fighting for the

lives of children every day and we have no space," Dr Richner said. "But

the Minister of Health is only interested in the private sector. He has no interest

in the poor."

Dr Richner said he had asked Prime Minister Hun Sen for land on Norodom Boulevard

in December 2001 to build a new outpatient station, and intensive care and surgery

units. He said the land was essential as one of the buildings currently in use was

infested with termites.

"These are Cambodian children and this is a government and university hospital

which is free of charge," Dr Richner said. "The government must help us

so we can ameliorate the situation. We need space and land but the Minister of Health

has blocked my request."

After several written and verbal requests over several days, the Post managed to

speak briefly with Minister Sun Huot, who said he did not know whether the government

would provide any further land to Kantha Bopha 1.

"This isn't my duty," he said. "I don't have any right to grant land

to Dr Richner as it doesn't belong to me."

The need for more space at Kantha Bopha 1 is obvious. When the Post visited at 8

am on a recent weekday, more than 1,200 children waiting to be seen as out-patients

were seated outside with their parents. Eighty two had already been admitted to intensive

care.

Inside the crowded hospital, many of the children lay two or three to a bed; several

were lying on mattresses on the floor. Others lay on beds in corridors.

The minister said he was willing to meet and cooperate with Dr Richner, and pointed

out that his ministry had already taken action. A team visited Kantha Bopha 1 on

September 23, said Sun Huot, who added that he was trying to arrange further meetings

with hospital officials.

"We are now setting up a meeting with the [Khmer] director of the hospital and

I need our ministry to see about the problems of the hospital's technical system,"

he said.

A corridor outside the hospital's intensive care ward takes some of the overflow.

Dr Richner has raised the stakes in the row, accusing the government and public hospitals

of corruption, on which he blamed much of the problem of overcrowding.

"The public health system is zero - it is [riddled with] corruption," he

said. "Eighty five percent of the children we hospitalize here arrive from the

provinces. The hospitals in the provinces are empty because of corruption - staff

are corrupt because they have no salary."

Dr Richner said that 2,800 children a month, which is 80 percent of the children

hospitalized at the three Kantha Bopha hospitals, would die if they were not admitted.

Kantha Bopha's projections estimate that 50,000 children will be treated as in-patients

in the three hospitals this year, up from 42,000 last year. Another 560,000 outpatients

were treated in 2001, and the hospital expects that will rise to 600,000 this year.

The main afflictions at the moment are TB, malaria and a severe outbreak of dengue

fever.

Dr Richner said new facilities were essential if children were to be treated properly

and with dignity.

"Every child has the right to be treated in a correct and efficient way that

saves their life," he said. "It is not their fault they were born in Cambodia

and it is not a child's merit that they are living in Switzerland."

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