Prime Minister Vows to Keep Children’s Hospitals Running

Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered the government to draw up a plan to fund the country’s popular Kantha Bopha children’s hospitals on Monday, four months after the long-serving director of the foundation that runs them resigned.

Dr. Beat Richner, a Swiss pediatrician who had managed the Zurich-based Kantha Bopha Foundation since he opened the first of its five hospitals in 1992, resigned for unspecified health reasons in March at the age of 70.

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A woman carries a baby at a Kantha Bopha children’s hospital in Phnom Penh on Monday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

On Monday, during a speech in Phnom Penh to launch a national social protection plan, Mr. Hun Sen instructed the economy and health ministries to find a way to provide the free hospitals with “any necessary support, especially financial support from the Royal Cambodian Government.”

Mr. Hun Sen stressed the need to ensure the hospitals maintain “good discipline, quality service and medical care to all children free of charge,” suggesting the public would blame the government if they were to fold.

“We cannot say that if there is no Dr. Beat Richner the hospitals will collapse. We cannot accept it,” he said. “The Cambodian people who have difficulties, they will think about whether the royal government could not do this job.”

Dr. Denis Laurent, the foundation’s deputy director in Cambodia, welcomed Mr. Hun Sen’s commitment.

He said it was not true that the foundation’s traditional sources of funding had suddenly run dry with Dr. Richner’s resignation, as the prime minister claimed in his speech. But he said the director’s departure had raised concerns about how secure those sources were in the long run, and that the prime minister’s remarks promised relief.

“It is really important for Kantha Bopha and the security of Kantha Bopha…so it is very good for us,” he said.

Dr. Laurent said he had no concerns that a large financial role for the government would compromise the hospitals’ reputable quality of care.

“I think now everybody in the ministries agrees to continue with the policies of Dr. Richner.”

Outside one of the foundation’s Phnom Penh hospitals on Monday, parents also welcomed the government’s pledge to keep them running.

“I am so happy to hear about that,” said Seu Sreymom, whose 13-year-old son had just been diagnosed with leukemia. “They pay attention to my son. They help us without political discrimination. I want the hospital to keep working forever.”

(Additional reporting by Zsombor Peter)

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