Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Hospitals mark 25th – sans founder

Hospitals mark 25th – sans founder

King Norodom Sihamoni (second-left) and Queen Mother Norodom Monineath (centre-right) attend the 25th anniversary of the Kantha Bopha Hospital in Phnom Penh yesterday. The hospital’s ailing founder, Beat Richner, is visible in the photograph behind them.
King Norodom Sihamoni (second-left) and Queen Mother Norodom Monineath (centre-right) attend the 25th anniversary of the Kantha Bopha Hospital in Phnom Penh yesterday. The hospital’s ailing founder, Beat Richner, is visible in the photograph behind them. Yesenia Amaro

Hospitals mark 25th – sans founder

The Kantha Bopha hospitals yesterday marked a milestone in their operations in Cambodia, celebrating 25 years since the first patient was admitted in November 1992 after Beat Richner was asked to rebuild the Kingdom’s hospitals by then-King Norodom Sihanouk.

Since then, the Kantha Bopha hospitals – named after a daughter of Sihanouk who died of leukemia – in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap have provided free treatment for severely ill children, regardless of income status, treating nearly 18 million children from 1992 to 2016.

But yesterday’s festivities, which were attended by King Norodom Sihamoni, Queen Mother Norodom Monineath and first lady Bun Rany, were also marked by a palpable absence – that of Richner himself, who was forced to step down eight months ago due to serious health problems.

Peter A Studer, vice president of the Kantha Bopha Foundation in Zurich, Switzerland, who took over as the head of the hospitals, said Richner, 70, is living in a residence for the elderly in Switzerland.

According to Studer, doctors still haven’t managed to diagnose Richner with a specific brain disease, but he said it is causing very rapid memory loss. It is likely not Alzheimer’s, as the memory loss would be much slower, he said.

“Unfortunately, he’s losing more and more of his memory,” he said. “He recognises me in the moment. I’m with him in the morning, but in the afternoon, I’m not sure if he realises it’s me.”

Rene Schwarzenbach, president of the foundation, said Richner is a different person than he was, even a year ago, when he was “still able to see so much detail” and manage all the complexities of the hospitals while still paying attention to patients.

Physically, he’s doing well, he added, and he still talks and laughs, though he has lost weight. “He’s not suffering, but he’s losing more and more of his memory . . . But of course, it’s very sad for us to see that.”
Asked if Richner still remembers Kantha Bopha, Studer said he avoided the subject because he believed it would be difficult for him.

But even as Richner’s own memory fades, others’ memories of him haven’t. Pen Monyrath, a paediatric surgeon at Kantha Bopha, said Richner was their “hero”.

“He almost had no free time to relax; he was always at the hospital,” he said. “We are all very sad for him.”

Meanwhile, Dr Heng Sothy, deputy director of the Kantha Bopha Hospital in Phnom Penh, said the hospitals are still running at full capacity and offering patients quality care.

The group that was established by the Ministry of Economy and Finance and the Ministry of Health to prepare a plan for ultimately turning the hospitals into state-run institutions has laid out a budget plan through 2025, though Sothy said he didn’t have the specific figures.

Health Minister Mam Bun Heng declined to comment.

Studer said the Cambodian government had increased its current $6 million annual contribution to $10 million next year, not including the $2 donated from every ticket sale at the Angkor Wat Archaeological Park, which would bring the total contribution up to around $15 million every year.

Additionally, the Cambodian Red Cross will continue to make its $1 million annual donation. The hospitals’ annual budget is $42 million.

Studer said the government had “promised” to continue to increase its contribution every year. “But we will see,” he said.

MOST VIEWED

  • Massive stingrays may live in Mekong’s deep pools

    US scientists have suggested that unexplored deep pools in the Mekong River in an area of Stung Treng could potentially be home to significant populations of giant freshwater stingrays, one of the world’s largest freshwater fish species. This comes as a fisherman hooked a 180

  • PM takes time to meet, greet Cambodians living in the US

    After landing in the US ahead of the ASEAN-US Special Summit, Prime Minister Hun Sen was received by over 1,000 Cambodian-Americans including political analysts who welcomed him with greetings, fist bumps and selfies. Hun Sen also met with analyst Mak Hoeun, who had allegedly spoken ill

  • PM reflects on shoe throwing: Free speech or act of violence?

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on May 17 questioned whether a man who threw a shoe at him while he was in the US was exercising freedom of expression or if it was an act of hostility. Hun Sen was referring to an incident last week when

  • Chinese tourists 2.0 – Coming anytime soon?

    Regional tourism is grappling with the absence of the prolific travellers and big spenders – the Chinese tourists. Cambodia, which has welcomed over two million Chinese tourists before Covid-19, is reeling from the economic loss despite being the first to fully open last November ‘To put

  • Prime Minister Hun Sen warmly welcomed by president Biden

    Prime Minister Hun Sen, as ASEAN chair, and other ASEAN leaders were warmly welcomed by US president Joe Biden as the ASEAN-US summit May 12-13 kicked off today in Washington. “This evening, I welcomed ASEAN leaders to the White House for the first time in

  • Third Makro outlet planned for capital’s Chroy Changvar

    Makro (Cambodia) Co Ltd is set to invest $12.7 million in its third Cambodian outlet, this time in northeast Phnom Penh’s Chroy Changvar district, an area dotted with high-end residential developments, as shopping behaviours continue to evolve in tandem with economic growth. The Cambodian Investment