At the inauguration ceremony of the Heart Surgery Centre II – named Kantha Bopha-Sihamoni Monineath – at Kantha Bopha I Children’s Hospital in Phnom Penh on Thursday, King Norodom Sihamoni said he and Queen Mother Norodom Monineath Sihanouk had donated $1.2 million towards its construction.

At the inauguration, which was attended by the King and the Queen Mother, he said that last year the Queen Mother and he had contributed $1 million towards the construction of the surgery centre, and were now donating a further $200,000 to the Kantha Bopha Foundation.

“I express my admiration for the donors and for the doctors whose great work has saved countless Cambodian children and women from all kinds of illnesses.

“You have played a major part in driving the development of the health sector and helping to build the nation,” the King said.

Speaking during the ceremony, Health Minister Mam Bun Heng said Phnom Penh’s first heart surgery building would begin work on Friday.

He said he expected the new facility and the Heart Surgery Centre I at Jayavarman VII hospital in Siem Reap province, which opened in 2011, to be able to be able to carry out thousands of operations between them in the next year.

“Having worked with Cambodia’s specialist doctors for eight years, I hope the Heart Surgery Centre II will meet people’s needs and treat the thousands of children who suffer from heart problems at birth every year.

“What is so gratifying is that, thanks to this new surgery centre, 80 per cent of these children will be able to live normal lives after being operated on successfully,” King Sihamoni said.

Kantha Bopha Foundation president Peter A Studer said the new facility comprised three storeys measuring 40m by 50m.

It would aim to save the lives of children with heart and nervous system problems from all over the country, Studer said.

He said the centre had six wards with 200 beds and cost some $ 8 million, which was funded by the Kantha Bopha Foundation in Switzerland and Cambodia and $1 million granted by the King and the Queen Mother.

Studer said that until now, babies born with heart problems had to be sent to Siem Reap, but from now on this would not be necessary.

“Doctors working in this new building will also be able to treat the nervous system and bone defects and save babies’ lives in emergencies. The foundation may open another facility in the future, but first, specialist doctors from Siem Reap will come to train the staff here,” he said.

Switzerland’s Federal Department of Foreign Affairs state secretary Pascale Baeriswyl said she had supported her government’s financial contribution, which was in honour of the hospital’s founder, the late Dr Beat Richner.

“Our vision is to create quality health services for all children in Cambodia to serve as the core of the success of this hospital. Today’s inauguration of the building is a result of the commitment to continue the work of Dr Beat Richner, who struggled to re-establish this Kantha Bopha Hospital,” she said.

Richner worked at the first Kantha Bopha Hospital in the mid-1970s, but when the Khmer Rouge took power, he was forced to return to Switzerland where he continued his work at the Zurich Children’s Hospital.

In December 1991, Richner returned to Cambodia and saw the devastation that had taken place. He was then asked to re-open and re-build the Kantha Bopha Hospital by the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk.