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Hope for children with cancer

Kantha Bopha - fragrant flower. This was the name of King Sihanouk's much-loved daughter, who died of leukaemia in 1952 at the age of just three. It was his great wish that Dr Beat Richner should try to help children with blood cancer. Our hospitals in Cambodia have been providing appropriate treatment for almost twenty years; around 40 per cent of the girls and boys affected survive. The treatments last eight months, during which the children remain in hospital. And the biggest challenge is to get side effects such as infections under control.

In mid-September, we opened a new oncology ward in Phnom Penh. "We can now also treat solid tumours here," explains Prof. Dr Felix Niggli, member of the Foundation Board and former Head of Oncology at the Children's Hospital Zurich. Together with Dr Peter Bode, Head Physician at the Institute of Pathology at Winterthur Cantonal Hospital, he has done everything necessary to train the staff in Cambodia and modernise the laboratory for the precise examination of diseased tissue.

The centre has barely opened when the first little patients arrive. Like eight-year-old Nam Kimyi (right), who has a rare tumour in her chest cavity. Or twelve-year-old Chan Navith (centre), who suffers from a malignant ulcer in his left shinbone with metastases in his lungs - the doctors had to amputate his knee and lower leg. Or eight-year-old Nav Vichheka (left), whose liver is riddled with tumours.

It takes a lot of empathy from the staff on the cancer ward.

"We expect to treat around 500 children a year on the cancer ward," says Felix Niggli. Without treatment, they would hardly have a chance of survival. Diagnostics, chemotherapy and surgical interventions are now possible in Phnom Penh, but radiotherapy is not yet. "It doesn't make sense to buy the equipment just for us. That's why we are looking for local cooperation," explains the oncologist. The professional exchange between Cambodia and Switzerland is lively, with experts from the fields of surgery, pathology, radiology and oncology forming a joint tumour board. They discuss and assess new cases of cancer online and then determine a suitable therapy. "We share our experience and pass on our knowledge."

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