June 21, 1999

Good Medicine

A special supplement to The CAMBODIA DAILY


Cambodia’s Medical Scene Enjoying Excellent Health
Eye Care Framed in Storefronts
Route From Manila Ran Through Libya, Sudan, Tanzania
Sports Injuries Get Special Attention
Dentistry No Longer Starts With Trip to Airport
Medical Center Lodges in Luxury Hotel by Mekong
Rough Roads Can Lead to Physiotherapist
Sometimes, There’s
No Translator
1992 Start Makes Scott Dean of Expat Docs
Treatment in Many
Montreal Surgeon Followed Adventure
Local Practices Have Some Logical Basis
Nurse Treasures Memories of UNTAC Days
Babies Are Marissa’s
Special Joy
Anywhere on Planet, There’s Help Available
X-Rays Referred to Veteran Radiologist
Medical Insurance Coverage Widening
New Array of Medical Problems Unfurls
Calmette Leads Cambodian Health-Care Field
Imports Supply Cambodia’s Medical Needs 
Pharmacies Dispense Myriad Drugs
Counselors Help Expats Through Rough Times
Clinic Boosts Women’s Health
Hospital Sees Thousands of New Cambodians
Kids Reap Health Benefits in Siem Reap

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.

Dr Heng Tay Khy, second from right, checks out the emergency room at Calmette Hospital.
Elizabeth Wright/The Cambodia Daily
Dr Heng Tay Khy, second from right, checks out 
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 years.

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 Calmette Hospital.

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.

—Elizabeth Wright

Cambodia's Health Care Facilities have undergone a dramatic improvement in recent years.

"Good Medicine"
takes a look at what's available today.