Cambodia, Corruption and Doctor Beat

by Keira Louis




Cambodia is a very poor country. It has been devastated by war and genocide, and as a result, the people of Cambodia are struggling to survive day to day. Unfortunately, the government is at the forefront of this poverty. Instead of responding appropriately and helping it’s people in the wake of such tragedy, they prefer to selfishly look after themselves. Consequently, the country is corrupt.


Everyday, men, women and children take to the streets in search of tourists who might generously give money, whether it be through begging, or selling bracelets, magnets, books, fans or the like. Tuk Tuk drivers compete to ‘win’ the next tourist who walks past. “You want tuk tuk? Only $1”. Restaurant owners compete for customers by sending their most persuasive staff, in some instances children, onto the street with menus to sell their service. “Hello lady, sir, you want something to eat? Very cheap price for you”. It is plain to see these people are desperate. Money is crucial to survival anywhere.


On a short trip to this country, one might not hesitate in giving generously to these people. But as a backpacker, you pick and choose very carefully how you spend your money because you’re on a budget. Giving $1US every time you are approached by someone in desperation, adds up quite quickly. And how do you decide who deserves the money the most? They all do. They live in a corrupt country with poor living standards. How do you help everyone? You can’t, unless you can prevent corruption. But where do you start? It’s impossible. Or so we thought.


At the ticket booth on the way to the temples of Angkor Wat, we were handed a flyer advertising a free concert on Saturday night at the Kanta Bopha Children’s Hospital. Music would be performed by Dr Beat Richner, a Swiss cellist living in Cambodia, and information given on the progress of the hospital to date. We decided to go. And what an inspirational evening.


Dr Beat is not only a cellist. He is the sole founder and current director of the 5 Kanta Bopha Children’s Hospitals in Cambodia. Unlike government-run hospitals and medical centres elsewhere in Cambodia, all services in the Kanta Bopha hospitals are free. Patients do not pay a single cent. Dr Beat knows the reality of the Cambodian people – 95% of families are too poor to pay for child health – so with this knowledge, he developed these hospitals to give children the chance to grow up healthy, and most importantly, survive.


It is not, however, an easy task. The hospitals are expensive to run. Yearly operating costs amount to 17 million dollars, which includes the purchasing of medication (50%), the salaries of the 2100 Cambodian staff members (30%), medical supplies, oxygen, utilities such as water, electricity, etc (15%), and administrative management (5%) . Patients are even given money to pay for transport to return to their follow-up appointments. So where does the money come from? The Cambodian government is a far cry from helpful – it provides only 3% of the total costs each year. 3%! So where does the remaining 97% of funds come from?


Donations. Every year, Dr Beat sets out on the arduous task of gathering enough donations to keep the hospitals running and the services free. He calls it “a provisional nightmare that never stops”. Despite being backpackers, Adam and I donated at the end of the concert, along with the other hundred or so people in attendance, as we were completely inspired by this one man’s passion to make a difference.


The weekly Saturday night concert run by Dr Beat raises $5 million alone due to the donations of generous tourists. One couple in California recently donated $1 million dollars to the hospitals. For the remaining donations, he can count on the generosity of his home country Switzerland, from both the public and its government. Without this generosity, he would not have had the money to establish the 5 hospitals in the first place.


All the while, the Cambodian government offers a measly 3% donation per annum. Every year, there are 600,000 visits to the hospital by sick children, 55,000 hospital admissions for severely sick children, 9,000 surgical operations, 100,000 vaccinations and 5,500 births at the Kanta Bopha hospitals. Every day 1000 children are hospitalised for an average time of 5 and a half days, and there are 2.500 outpatients. If it wasn’t for Kanta Bopha hospitals, 2,800 children would die – yet the Cambodian government is unable to donate more. A remarkable statement by Dr Beat Richner is that the Kanta Bopha hospitals have the highest patient success rate to patient cost ratio in the world. It is thanks to this man, and the only corruption-free infrastructure in Cambodia, that Cambodian children can be given a healthy life.


Dr Beat Richner views his work as not a political statement, but a humanitarian one. The hospitals that he has been able to establish, in a small way reflect justice for Cambodian children who have grown up in a country torn apart by war and genocide.


And so we have learnt that preventing corruption in a country reeking of it IS possible. All you need is the passion to make a difference, commitment to the task no matter how long it takes, and the knowledge that it definitely won’t be easy. It is, by all definitions of the word, a challenge. But one that this Doctor was willing to undertake single-handedly and successfully.


“Without justice there is no peace”. Dr Beat Richner


1 Comment

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One response to “Cambodia, Corruption and Doctor Beat

  1. Lindsay

    Keira- I love that photograph of the little boy staring up! What a great, quirky shot! It is really interesting reading about your experiences in Cambodia. The concert sounds like a memorable experience XXOO

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