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Beat Richner Appointed Advisor to Ministry of Health

Jonathan Cox / Khmer Times Share:
Minister of Health Mam Bun Heng (left) at a ceremony appointing Dr. Beat Richner as an advisor to the Ministry of Health. Supplied

In a ceremony on Tuesday, the Ministry of Health appointed a new advisor – the Swiss Dr. Beat Richner, founder of the Kantha Bopha Hospital and Foundation. His hospitals have treated more than 15 million children since the first one opened in 1991 and Minister of Health Mam Bun Heng praised him for his contributions to healthcare in Cambodia.
 
“Beat Richner is a hero who has helped Cambodia in the health sector,” the Minister of Health said.
 
Despite this recognition from the government, some have questioned whether the hospitals will be able to continue providing the same level of care once the 69-year-old Dr. Richner is no longer at the helm. He is now responsible for single-handedly raising more than 80 percent of the hospitals’ budget.
 
Dr. Richner has said that large donors need to commit more money to ensuring the hospitals survive. “Thousands of children would not have a chance to survive or to be prevented from being handicapped without this hospitalization,” he said in 2015.
 
“About these serious facts the international community, including the Swiss government and the Royal Cambodian Government, should be aware, especially for the years to come, when I can no [longer] look for 85 percent of the budget.”
 
Dr. Richner has not always been considered a hero by the healthcare community. He gained notoriety in the 1990s for clashing with the World Health Organization (WHO), who he accused of providing “poor medicine for people in poor countries.” Dr. Richner and the WHO held different philosophies of healthcare – while the WHO focused on providing sustainable healthcare that was within Cambodia’s financial reach, Dr. Richner believed in providing high-quality care, whatever the cost.
 
“Dr. Richner said each child has only one life, so he decided to provide the best treatment in Cambodia,” said Dr. Denis Laurent, deputy director of Kantha Bopha Hospital. “People thought it was too expensive for Cambodia. At the beginning the policy of Dr. Richner was very strongly attacked and criticized. Now after 25 years, maybe things have changed and many people recognize the quality of what we are doing.”
 
Though they were called unsustainable, Dr. Richner’s hospitals have now survived more than 20 years. The long lines that form every day outside the Phnom Penh branch of Kantha Bopha hospital shows its popularity, and thousands of children are treated at the hospitals every month.
 
Providing high-quality care to these large numbers of children is not cheap, though. The hospitals have a yearly operating budget of roughly $42 million, most of which comes from private donations raised by Dr. Richner. The government and citizens have recently pledged more money to keep the hospital running, said Dr. Laurent.
 
The Ministry of Health and Finance last year promised to increase their funding for the hospital from $3 million to $6 million. Small donors are playing a part, too. In 2015, $3 million came from small private donations within Cambodia, with $1 million in donations each from the Cambodian Red Cross and the Bayon Foundation.
 
Although Dr. Richner’s new role in the government does not necessarily bring more funding with it, Dr. Laurent said it signals that the government is committed to ensuring the hospitals survive.
 
“It’s important for the future, because it shows that the government is ready to partner with Kantha Bopha,” Dr. Laurent said. “Now we have certainty that the royal government will keep Kantha Bopha as Kantha Bopha is today, with the same quality and the same system – free of charge for everybody.”
 
 

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