Calmette Leads Cambodian Health-Care Field
When the ambulance whistles wail and the emergency lights flash,
chances are some unfortunate soul is heading for Calmette Hospital.
It is in the Calmette emergency room that the life of many an
unfortunate accident victim is saved and the doctors there have a
high reputation across the city.
Wright/The Cambodia Daily
Dr Heng Tay Khy, second from right, checks
the emergency room at Calmette Hospital.
Calmette director Dr Heng Tay Khy, one of the city’s foremost
surgeons, holds the rare distinction of being the man who took out
Prime Minister Hun Sen’s appendix recently—and successfully.
It has been a long road for the man who first worked as a medical
student in the early 1970s at what was then the Calmette Foundation
Clinic, a private hospital for the wealthy. Hen Tay Khy’s medical
training came to an abrupt halt in 1974 and he toiled in the fields
in Pursat, posing as an uneducated peasant, during those turbulent
Come 1979, Dr Heng Tay Khy returned to Calmette, by then renamed
Revolution Hospital. There were estimated to be 40 doctors in all
Cambodia when the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia and drove Pol Pot out
of Phnom Penh. Dr Heng Tay Khy was one of those 40 and one of three
at Revolution Hospital. A team of Vietnamese doctors was brought in,
soon to be joined by Cubans, East Germans, Russians and Bulgarians.
French had been the language of medicine in Cambodia, but soon there
were many tongues spoken and by the time Dr Heng Tay Khy was named
chief of surgery, he spoke six languages.
As Dr Heng Tay Khy’s career rose, so did the fortunes of Calmette.
In 1989, a French NGO, Medecins du Monde did a study that
recommended the hospital be recreated as a public facility. It was
then 90 percent reserved for high officials and 10 percent for the
poor. The NGO recommended the allocation of resources be reversed.
Further, the report recommended massive renovations and
reconstruction costing $3 million, and that the name be changed to
These changes, funded by the French and with donations from a
variety of other nations since, including the Japanese, have given
Phnom Penh the sleek, well-equipped facility it has today. There are
203 beds, 101 of them medical and 57 for surgical patients. Other
beds are in the emergency, anaesthetic recovery, maternity and
gynecology areas. A modern laboratory wing performs testing
procedures and there are extensive x-ray facilities.
Plans for the future include expansion of the cardiac treatment
center, a new facility for the treatment of monks and work on the
intensive care and emergency units.
Calmette’s biggest problems are, predictably, centered around its
budget. The facility runs on approximately $1 million a year, part
of which comes from the Ministry of Health and part from paying
patients. The mandate of Calmette is to treat the poor and there is
always a shortfall. Generally, international donors make up the
difference and the French government is still a major supporter.
Dr Heng Tay Khy takes pride in the immaculate landscaping and airy
architecture of the hospital. He bustles through the grounds,
scooping up any trash he finds, forbids spitting and has an eagle
eye for infringement of the rules, such as when family members crowd into
ICU or emergency area, disrupting activities.
The doctor and the hospital go way back and when he pauses to greet
a group of visiting premed students, the director is coming full
circle to the days when he, too, was fresh to the profession and
experiencing the excitement of Calmette for the first time.