How it began
Beat Richner was born in Zurich on 13 March 1947.
After receiving his medical degree in 1973 he specialized in paediatrics at the Zurich Children's Hospital. In 1974/75 he was sent to Cambodia by the Swiss Red Cross (SRC) to work at the Kantha Bopha Children's Hospital. His mission came to an abrupt end when the Khmer Rouge invaded the country. Dr. Richner was forced to return to Switzerland, where he took up his former position at the Zurich Children's Hospital. In 1980 he opened his own practice in Zurich, which he shared with a fellow practitioner.
Whilst pursuing his medical career, Beat Richner developed in 1972 the character of BEATOCELLO, an artistic role which he would slip into from time to time and which might best be described as that of a poetic and musical comedian or clown. He gave countless performances, mostly in the German-speaking part of Switzerland, but also abroad. Beat Richner also published a number of books with simple line-drawings – mostly children's books – to accompany his performances the poetic and humanitarian stories he set to music.
Kantha Bopha I,
the first hospital
In December 1991 Dr. Richner was asked by the King Norodom Sihanouk and the Cambodian government to rebuild and manage the Kantha Bopha Children's Hospital, which had been destroyed during the war; once again, his life had taken a sudden turn, and he accepted the job. In March 1992 he created a foundation in Zurich, moved to Phnom Penh and began with the reconstruction work. On 2 November 1992 Kantha Bopha Children's Hospital was back in operation. Over the following years the hospital was progressively extended and modified to meet the most urgent needs of its patients. Kantha Bopha is the name of King Sihanouk's beloved daugther, who died of leukemia in 1952 at the age of 3.
Kantha Bopha II,
the second hospital
In 1995 the hospital Kantha Bopha 1 became overcrowded, with more than 1,000 outpatients every day and over 350 hospitalizations. King Norodom Sihanouk offered land at his Royal Palace in Phnom Penh to build a new hospital. On 12 October 1996 the second Children's Hospital was inaugurated in the presence of King Norodom Sihanouk and Jean-Pascal Delamuraz, President of the Federal Council of Switzerland.
Alone against the System and the discrimination of the poor
The policy and strategy of the WHO and many of its subordinate organizations concerning medicine in poor countries, in our case Cambodia, results in thousands of deaths, thousands of invalids, and thousands of brain-damaged victims. This policy, which we characterize as poor medicine for poor people in poor countries, is not only ineffective, it actually actively endangers, damages, and destroys thousands of lives. This policy amounts to passive genocide. These organizations and their proponents are called upon to assume their responsibility and change their policies and strategies.
There is little point 30 years from now in complaining about the tragedy of today and the past 20 years caused by the mistaken policy of the WHO. We challenge the international community to have the courage to recognize the cruelty and horror of the situation and act appropriately. Dr. Beat Richner, 15 September 1998
the third hospital
On 9 March 1998 land was donated by Hun Sen, Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Cambodia, on the initiative of H.E. Cham Prasidh, Minister of Commerce, to build a third children's hospital in Siem Reap, near the temple of Angkor. Dr. Beat Richner's third children's hospital opened on 31 March 1999 as an annex of Kantha Bopha I and II. As in the other hospitals, treatment remains free of charge for every child. It has a large prevention and health education center, a large outpatient station and extensive facilities for inpatient care and the proper treatment of very sick children whose lives are in danger. The design of the hospital was the result of seven years’ experience running the Kantha Bopha Children's Hospital in Phnom Penh. It serves as a global model of how to build and organize a hospital facing similar conditions.
Maternity ward for HIV positive mothers
At the inauguration of the Jayavarman VII Children's Hospital in Siem Reap, Samdech Hun Sen, Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Cambodia, announced in the presence of King Norodom Sihanouk that the government would give additional land for the hospital. Thanks to a family's personal donation, Beat Richner was able to build and complete a maternity ward for HIV-positive mothers adjacent to the Jayavarman VII hospital in Siem Reap, Angkor. A special program was developed to prevent the newborn babies from being infected with the HIV by the mother. The inauguration took place on 9 October 2001. In March 2005 an extension to the Jayavarman VII was opened, providing 350 additional beds.
Swiss of the Year
On 5 January 2003 Dr. Beat Richner was honored with the first ever "Swiss Award".
He was voted for by 23% of the Swiss. Other Swiss greats such as Roger Federer, Peter Sauber, Köbi Kuhn, Didier Cuche and Polo Hofer have won the prize since. The names of the prizewinners are engraved on a plaque on the Älggi-Alp, the geographical center of Switzerland.
Kantha Bopha IV,
the fourth hospital
By 2004 the Kantha Bopha I hospital in Phnom Penh had become too small and two of its three buildings were in a very bad and dangerous condition. Without a new building, Kantha Bopha I could not function any longer. The construction of a new hospital started on 3 August 2004 after some land adjacent to the Wat Phnom was bought. The new Kantha Bopha IV children's hospital was inaugurated on 29 December 2005 by King Sihamoni and Prime Minister Hun Sen.
One of three Kantha Bopha I's buildings continued to be used and the others were evacuated and later restored. Kantha Bopha IV is connected with the old Kantha Bopha I.
The hospital has 555 beds, 4 surgical operating rooms, two intensive care units, a fully equipped laboratory with a blood bank, an imaging department (an x-ray, 4 ultrasounds and a CT scanner) a large pharmacy, an outpatient station and a prevention center. The total costs of building this Hospital was 15 million USD. Beat Richner asked the Swiss people to contribute by donating a twenty-franc note each (Aktion Zwänzger Nötli 2004). This campaign collected enough money to finalize this undertaking. The campaign was supported by schoolchildren and people all over Switzerland.
Kantha Bopha V,
The latest hospital in Phnom Penh
Soon after the inauguration of Kantha Bopha IV, the hospital became overcrowded and in 2006 the amount of hospitalized patients in Phnom Penh had increased by 50%. It was decided to build Kantha Bopha V, which was inaugurated on 28 December 2007 in the presence of his Majesty King Norodom Sihamoni together with Samdech Hun Sen and high ranking members of the royal government of Cambodia. Kantha Bopha V has a prevention station, x-ray, fluoroscopy, ultrasound, laboratories and 9 units with 34 beds each (about 300 beds in total). In addition to this there is a conference room and a medical library. The costs were 9 million USD.
with the Cello
In order to inform people about the situation of his hospitals, Dr. Beat Richner gave a concert in Jayavarman 7 hospital in Siem Reap every Saturday.
He also travelled to Switzerland three times a year to give concerts and raise money with his cello.
One of his most famous events was the traditional Knie Gala, which took place more than 26 times. Here, friends of the foundation enjoyed an exciting program and donated to the Kantha Bopha children's hospitals. In 2012 the Cambodian King Sihamoni honored the event with his presence.
Kantha Bopha has become a highly respected model for the entire Southeast Asian region. It has shown how efficient direct medical and humanitarian aid – i.e. correct medication unhampered by corruption, combined with targeted long-term training - can be in curative and preventive medicine as well as in research. Most of the funding comes from private individuals in Switzerland who have made spontaneous donations for Kantha Bopha, very often straight after one of BEATOCELLO's performances.
End of a era
On 9 September 2018 Beat Richner passed away after a serious illness. He leaves behind a legacy of extraordinary, unparalleled, successful, and sustainable lifetime achievements that deserve the greatest admiration.
During the 25 years of his work, his hospitals treated 15.4 million outpatients and 1.7 million seriously ill children as inpatients.