Saturday, September 17, 2016

Myanmar - Lawmakers debate expanding rural healthcare

A patient sleeps on her bed in a ward at Yangon General Hospital in Yangon. Photo: AFP

Debating the National Health Policy in the Pyithu Hluttaw yesterday, most members of parliament advocated for adding more public health staff around the country, particularly in rural areas.

Dr Aye Zin Latt, a National League for Democracy MP for Sagaing Region, submitted the proposal in the first regular session.

Daw San San Ei, an NLD MP for Kachin State’s Mohnyin township, said the death toll for infants and mothers is increasing in rural areas because of insufficient health staffing and inadequate medicine.

She suggested that the government open more rural-based pharmacies and assign more midwives and general health staff.

U Maung Maung, another NLD MP, from Htigyaing township in Sagaing Region, said improved health education is needed.

“I run a hardware shop. One day, a girl came in and bought a yellow powder used for polishing furniture,” he said. “When I asked her why she needed to buy it, she said she was going to use it to make pork sticker. She wanted to use the polish to colour food.”

Daw Wint War Tun, an NLD MP for Kayah’s Shardaw township, said remote areas of her state are especially in need of healthcare services.

The services cover the urban areas while neglecting the rural areas, said Daw Khin Saw Wai, an Arakan National Party MP for Rathedaung township in Rakhine State.

“Because of the lay of the land, three or four villages cannot have a midwife,” she said. “It means we are neglecting mothers from rural areas who cannot go to urban areas for medical treatment.”

One-third of the country’s children under five years old are malnourished, said Dr Aung Khin, an NLD MP from Mandalay Region’s Pyin Oo Lwin township. About 29 percent do not meet the standard height for children their age. The malnourishment leads to physical and developmental issues when they grow up, he said.

Staffing of the country’s health sector is just over 40pc of what it should be, he said.

U Thet Naung from Lahe township in Sagaing Region said health workers’ salaries need to be increased.

In his township, only 26 health workers are assigned to a department that should have a staff of 94.

“They say they are thrown away into the distant areas,” he said, explaining how health workers respond when they are assigned to the township.

Responding to the MPs, Union Minister for Health and Sport U Myint Htwe said that in two months 2000 doctors and medical staff will be assigned to meet the needs of the hospitals.

However, the deputy director of the medical care department has previously admitted to The Myanmar Times that the ministry is direly short on doctors. The new recruits barely begin to staunch the vacancies, with 2000 to 3000 new doctors needed annually just to fill the gaps.

According to the World Health Organization, Myanmar has just six doctors for every 10,000 people, with a rural and urban disparity exacerbating the shortage outside of city centres. According to a parliamentary session last month, only 37,710 medical officers and staff serve the entire country’s 51 million people.

Parliament’s debate on the National Health Policy is scheduled to continue today.

Htoo Thant

You can find older posts regarding ASEAN politics and economics news at SBC blog, and older posts regarding health and healthcare at IIMS blog. I thank you.

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