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Vol 20, No. 05, May 2016   |   Issue PDF view/purchase
An Interview with Professor Myint Han: Healthcare in Myanmar
“There are 51 million people in Myanmar, and 70% of them live in rural areas. It is extremely important that we act fast to improve accessibility and affordability of healthcare services. In the past 5 years, we have increased national healthcare budget for cancer control to address the issues, specifically around prevention.”

Professor Myint Han
Director General, Department of Medical Services,
Ministry of Health, Republic of the Union of Myanmar

Professor Myint Han obtained M.B., B.S degree from University of Medicine-1, Yangon, Myanmar in 1982. He joined government services in 1985 and worked as an Army Medical Officer for three years and then worked as Assistant Surgeon in various hospitals. He began his career as internist in general medicine in 1992 and became consultant physician in 1996.

He studied in UK from 1998 to 2000 to sit for MRCP examination and worked in Cardiothoracic Centre in Liverpool. After obtaining MRCP from the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, UK, he came back to Myanmar and worked as a consultant physician at Sittwe General Hospital and Yangon General Hospital. He was promoted to Associate Professor (Medicine), University of Medicine-1 in 2007 and then to Professor (Medicine) of the University 2 in 2010. He also obtained Diploma in Medical Education in 2013.He involved in various academic activities as he used to be an executive member of Myanmar Medical Association and also participated in research works. Antimicrobial resistance is the one of the areas of his research interest and he often made presentation on this in Myanmar Medical Research conferences. He also worked as a Program Manager of Elderly Health Care as his special interest is in elderly health care.

He started his new post of Director General at the Department of Food and Drug Administration in 2013 and then became Director General of Department of Medical Services in 2015.

1. What different methods and approaches does your country use in promoting healthcare policies? Which programmes have been the most effective?

We have a number of methods which are used in promoting healthcare policies. The essential component of our healthcare policies is to raise awareness among the communities for the common health problems. So the methods we have used are information, education and communication. As most of the people are living in the rural areas, the accessibility of the healthcare services as well as the dissemination of the health information are difficult. If they follow our information and education, it is the most effective way to promote our healthcare policies.

Nowadays, media is playing very important role in healthcare promotion. We use TV channels, radio and Facebook. For instance, Facebook is very famous among the younger population, and some older people also in favor of using Facebook now. Therefore, we disseminate information through websites of our Ministry. Different departments have different websites. We also comment on Facebook page to make people aware of important health problems and for public health education.

2. Will there be any change in healthcare policies after the establishment of new government in Myanmar?

This is a very good question, I couldn’t answer straight away. It is very exciting for the whole country. The new Government is coming in April, not too far from now. The current existing government also pays attention to the education and the health sectors. As per the election campaign manifesto of National League for Democracy (NLD), the mission of health is to reach out the health services so that people will be accessible to it easily. In other words, we have to go for Universal Health Coverage. From my presentation, you might aware that a huge amount of budget is used in the health and the education sectors. May be health and education will be the focus of the new government again because we need to do a lot to improve the education and health status in our country. My personal view is that these areas will be highly focused. Education and health are the priorities for the next government. Over the last 5 years, there was a dramatic increase in the use of the budget in the healthcare to buy new expensive equipment, and setting up new health facilities for the cancer centres. It finally amounts to 7% of the total health budget used in the cancer control.

3. Is there any healthcare policy to reduce the financial burden of your citizens?

Many people in my country live in rural area where they face difficulties in accessing to the health care services. Poverty is another issue. What we are trying to do is to reduce the out-of-pocket payment from the public. In last 5 years, we have 80% out-of-pocket payment for the people with provision of the free healthcare medical services, providing drugs for the cancer patients and free medical care for the basic cancer treatment. And not just in the field of oncology, but the whole healthcare system including other diseases. We have reduced the out-of-pocket expenditure from nearly 80% last 5 years ago to nearly 60% today. We try to reduce the patients’ out-of-pocket financial burden to prevent poor people from getting into financial catastrophe. For the question about providing the free healthcare medical services, the main issue for our country is the sustainability. So we are also thinking that this is the short term win to provide people to protect financial burden. However, for the long term, we are committed to follow the path to universal health coverage. So we believe that the universal health coverage is the only answer to reduce the financial burden of citizens.

4. Are there any challenges or hindrances to implement standard healthcare policies in your country? What steps are being taken to overcome them?

Higher political involvement or the commitment from higher policy-makers is very important. We also help to look at the socio-economic status and infrastructure of the country in various aspects as well. As the poverty issue still exists, if we generally improve the socio-economic status by poverty alleviation and improving the infrastructures, then it will in turn improve the healthcare situations. Reduce poverty, increase basic infrastructures like road, transport etc., will definitely benefit the health sector.

5. Are there any digital health programme in your country?

No, we do not have any existing digital health programme in my country.

6. What are your future plans to better implement these healthcare policies?

The current healthcare policies were done quite sometimes ago. It was around year 1993. We have some of the plans following that, but this is a very crucial time for us to review and revise healthcare policies now, because some of the issues such as increasing demand for health from people, changing disease pattern and population structure, rapidly changing epidemiological conditions, changes in HRH situation or HRH mix etc. So it is time for us to review, and revise the national health policy first, and then comes to some implementation plans following the policy.

This interview was conducted by APBN, Catherine D. Ong and Carmen Jia Wen Loh at Healthcare Forum: War on Cancer on 17th March 2016.

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