25 years Children’s Hospitals Kantha Bopha in Cambodia – the life’s work of Dr Beat Richner

Foundation Kantha Bopha Children’s Hospitals by Dr med Beat Richner

Cambodia/Zurich, November 2017 – Quite surprisingly the Zurich paediatrician and musician Dr Beat Richner “Beatocello” announced in 1991, that he would soon hand over his “Lädeli”, as he called the practice on the Zürichberg, to his colleague Dr Fredi Löhrer. He would move to Cambodia to rebuild the children’s hospital Kantha Bopha in the capital Phnom Penh. The King of Cambodia asked him for that. However, no money was available. The country was ruined after the Vietnam War and the Khmer Rouge reign of terror. The people were very poor.

Beat Richner examines a child in Jayavaram VII, the mother holds the hand. (picture Keystone)

Dr Richner was well acquainted with the children’s hospital, where he had led a mission of the Swiss Red Cross as a young doctor in 1974, until the day the Khmer Rouge took over and the entire elite of the country, including most of Kantha Bopha’s doctors were confined in camps and torture prisons and killed. Foreigners like Dr Richner had to flee the country. Now he wanted to help make up for the old wrongs, Dr Beat Richner explained before he left.
The story of this Swiss paediatrician, who is willing to give up his pleasant life on Lake Zurich in order to rebuild a destroyed children’s hospital under the most difficult conditions in one of the poorest countries in the world, has touched the Swiss population so much that thanks to the generosity of Swiss small and large donors, within 25 years Dr Richner was able to build five modern children’s hospitals with maternity, surgery, lecture halls, 2,300 beds and 2,400 Cambodian employees. In 2002, Dr Beat Richner was elected first Swiss of the year.
Every day, 2,500 to 3,500 mothers and fathers with sick children visit the hospitals in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. 350 to 550 seriously ill children are hospitalized daily. The hospitals of  Dr med Richner treat about three quarters of all sick children in Cambodia. A whole generation of Cambodians owes their health to the Kantha Bopha hospitals.
Behind these impressive figures stands the struggle of an unshakable optimist and genius paediatrician who believes in his mission. And rapidly went forward: The first hospital was opened just one year after the first call for donations in the “Schweizer Illustrierte”, 25 years ago today!
Since then, this unusual Swiss Doctor has served the children of Cambodia around the clock. With his cello he annually gave several concerts in Switzerland to inform about the hospitals and to raise money. In speeches and books, he vehemently advocated his idea of correct medicine, to which people in poor countries have also a right.
He intrepidly started an argument with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the pharmaceutical industry because antibiotics were sold and recommended in poor countries that are no longer used over here. Today, people like to forget that he was always criticized by other relief organizations and auxiliary functionaries of various organizations and governments for running a “Rolls-Royce medicine”.
But  Dr Richner was right: Especially serious diseases such as tuberculosis and others, which rarely occur in our country, can only be correctly diagnosed with the most modern equipment. And a child with heart disease also has the right to surgery in Cambodia. Today, Dr Richner is recognized as a pioneer by experts from around the world: His hospitals have become a model internationally for correct, efficient, corruption-free medical care in the developing world.
Also the architectural conception and the disciplined, tight organisation of the hospital staff impress again and again politicians, doctors, experts and other visitors from all over the world. In Richner’s hospitals the hospital care is free of charge for the still very poor population. The staff is, according to Cambodian standards correctly paid, including the cleaning staff. Today the Kantha Bopha hospitals are also university hospitals as training center for young doctors. A close, long-term cooperation with the University Children’s Hospital Zurich and its management and chief physicians guarantees the high quality.
After many years of dependence on donations from the Swiss population, the Swiss Confederation and the Cambodian government have also been financially involved in recent years. Dr Richner was appointed a State Department Adviser to the Ministry of Health in the rank of an undersecretary of state in Cambodia. The government and the king have agreed that the state of Cambodia wants to become even more financially involved in the longer term.
But for the time being, Dr Richners work could not continue without the generous donations from Switzerland. Therefore, we thank all donors for their generosity and loyalty, hoping to be able to continue counting on them. Every donated Swiss Franc benefits the sick children to 100%. This also guarantees the Board of Trustees of Kantha Bopha Hospitals under the chairmanship of the Zurich lawyer  Dr med René Schwarzenbach.
To celebrate the 25th anniversary of Dr med Beat Richner’s children’s hospitals there will be a celebration with information and musical accompaniment on Saturday, 25 November at 12:15 pm in the Zurich Grossmünster. You are all cordially invited. There will also be a celebration in Cambodia, with King Norodom Sihamoni, Queen Mother Monineath and the entire workforce of the hospitals, representatives of the Swiss and Cambodian governments as well as a delegation of the foundation board.
Unfortunately, the celebrations take place without Dr med Beat Richner, who fell seriously ill a few months ago and therefore had to return to Switzerland for care. The absence of Dr Richner as head of the hospitals was a big shock to the Cambodians and the Swiss donors. Dr Richner suffers from a rare and incurable brain disease with increasing loss of function and memory, a tragic and sad fate for this extraordinary man. A small consolation is the statement of his doctors and his family that he himself does not suffer, has no pain, is well cared for, receives regular visits from his family and friends and apparently has not lost his humour.
Dr Beat Richner is not replaceable. Early on, he thought of a succession regulation and transferred responsibility for the hospitals to his deputy Dr med Peter Studer and the Cambodian medical team he trained, as well as the long-standing administrator, personnel and laboratory manager Dr Denis Laurent, who ensure a smooth continuance of the hospitals.
Considering the fact that in the very first year, skeptics have emerged on all sides, who doubted the sustainability of  Dr Beat Richner’s work, a 25-year celebration is the perfect moment to look back and be amazed that this ingenious paediatrician and musical clown from Zurich has achieved something that only few people thought possible. One can only say thank you to Beat Richner – and keep silent.    •
Dr med Beat Richner, honorary president,
Dr iur René Schwarzenbach, President,
Dr med Peter Studer, Head of Hospitals
Foundation Children’s Hospital Kantha Bopha,
Dr med Beat Richner,
PC 80-60699.1,  
IBAN CH98 0900 00008006 0699 1
Source: www.beat-richner.ch,

DVD special issue with 3 films (“Bach at the Pagoda” from 1996; “And the beat goes on” from 1999 and the documentation of the 15th anniversary of the hospitals of 2007)