CHIANGRAI TIMES – Dr Cynthia Maung founder of the highly respected Mae Tao Clinic, has cautiously welcomed some positive developments by the new Myanmar government, but remains concerned about the humanitarian crisis among ethnic groups sheltering along the border with Thailand.
She says all sides still need to cooperate and work to improve health and education services, so the people can eventually help themselves.
Hiding her disappointment that democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi was not able to visit her clinic, Dr Cynthia maintained the see-for-herself objective was important since over the past two decades lots of community organizations have been in collaboration with the Thai authorities in addressing emergency issues.
“This collaboration (between Thai-Myanmar civil society) in capacity-building on health, education, women and children’s care is a valuable platform for future cooperation between the two countries as the Asean economic community is in the making.
“Especially, economic zones that are growing along the border will be exposed to heavier health caseloads while the system inside Myanmar is not ready to respond to those emerging issues,” Karen-born Dr Cynthia said. She left Myanmar in 1988.
Mae Tao Clinic was therefore partnering with several other organizations in training health workers and volunteers inside the country, particularly for those young internally displaced people in conflict zones, so that they could also contribute to society because many international health and humanitarian support groups have yet to gain full access to the hotspots, she said in an interview with the
“We need people bi-lingual in Myanmar ethnic languages and Thai working or volunteering along the border. Also collaboration on communicable disease surveillance and care,” Dr Cynthia said.
She emphasized that Myanmar ‘s leaders, Suu Kyi included, need to understand the significance of such cross-border collaboration between Thai authorities and the civil society organizations, including the ethnic groups.
“Thailand’s experience in building up comprehensive labor management and health service system are important to us, and support (from Thailand) is the key to Myanmar,” said Dr Cynthia, who has received several internationally acclaimed awards including the Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership in 2002.
Mae Tao Clinic has seen the number of patients seeking medical services increasing 10 to 20 per cent each year. From 2,000 patients in the first year (1989) to the current 420,000 — half of them cross-border patients.
While some positive developments were seen under the Thein Sein government, several concerns remain prevalent because there were uncertainties for the ceasefire. Only when there was a shift in the border areas — with landmine clearance, genuine peace agreements and improved, affordable education, and people not being displaced within the country or having to cross-over into Thailand, — could it be called real change, she said.
For her, a key indicator would be increased caseloads at Myawaddy Hospital and a reduction of cases at the Mae Tao Clinic and Mae Sot Hospital. Last year, 3000 babies were delivered at her clinic, with only 1,200 born at Myawaddy Hospital.
“We want to see the Myawaddy authorities being assigned more decision-making power in cooperating and collaborating with Thailand to improve their own system in issues like communicable disease control, medical referrals, human resources, training, and information sharing,” said Dr Cynthia.
She noted that the Myanmar leaders should take into account relevant issues in ceasefires with the ethnic groups, including how to strengthen the community groups and organizations so these people could help support other important issues including health and education.
“Right now what we could do is to train the so-called backpacker health workers in the conflict areas that international humanitarian groups do not have full access to yet. The 90 volunteers in such states as Kachin, Karen and Shan are locals trained and supported with kits by Mae Tao Clinic,” she said.
A positive note for Cynthia was perhaps there now were more organizations, including the ethnic groups, working on health and education.
“What is really needed is a health service infrastructure inside the country,” said Dr Cynthia.