08/23/2013, 00.00
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Myanmar faces medical emergency with unusable drugs and shortage of doctors

by Francis Khoo Thwe
Only 15 neurologists and 12 neurosurgeons throughout Myanmar. Rapid spread of epidemics, with 9 thousand new cases per year of drug resistant TB. Therapies and vaccines ineffective because they are badly stored given frequent energy blackouts. Some examples that illustrate one of the worst countries in the world in terms of health care.

Yangon (AsiaNews) - Chronic Shortages of specialists, neurologists and neurosurgeons in particular, the rapid spread of diseases resistant to medicines, such as tuberculosis, and again, basic drugs that are almost unusable, poorly stored due to frequent black-outs. Myanmar pots military dictatorship is still far from a developed nation, in spite of the experts and international investors predictions. In fact, the potential in the economic sector - thanks to oil, natural gas, raw materials and energy - that drives the growth of the country, is of no real benefit for the population. Indeed, the majority of Burmese have been left behind, with no real improvement of living standards as shown by a recent survey by the World Health Organization (WHO), which sees the Myanmar ranked last in a long list made up of 194 nations.

In a speech to the Senate Burmese Health Minister Phay Thet Khin said yesterday that throughout Myanmar there are only 15 neurologists. He admits that - with the exception of Yangon, Mandalay and the capital Naypiydaw - "there are not enough specialists to be assigned to hospitals in other counties or divisions." The situation of neurosurgeons is even worse with only a dozen for the entire nation. The Head of the department of Health adds that there is a shortage of urologists and gastroenterologists, but "there will be no improvements in the short term," says the minister, because more than 10 years is needed to for a doctor to specialize in a particular field.

The widespread lack of structural health care has also added to the increased spread of serious epidemics resistant to medical treatment. These include tuberculosis, which is spreading with increasing rapidity in Myanmar and registers 9 thousand new cases per year (300 thousand in total and among the highest in the world in relation to population). However, only a small percentage receive a proper diagnosis and can have an appropriate medical treatment to fight the disease.

WHO estimates for last year show that "only 800 patients" were given adequate medical care out of 9 thousand cases of tuberculosis. The gap is still "huge," admit the experts, and if urgent measures are not taken "is likely to increase." The goal is to cure at least 10 thousand cases in 100 different cities by 2015, but the outlook is pessimistic thanks to a chronic shortage of funds: of the 55 million dollars needed, 41 million are lacking.

Moreover, when available, a lot of the drugs are unusable. The lack of regular electricity supply has a devastating impact on medications, especially those that require low temperatures such as those used "for cancer, or vaccines for tetanus and rabies." Some doctors denounce the death of patients with diabetes, because the drugs have not been stored at appropriate temperatures and have lost their effectiveness. Moreover, the central government spends only 3.9% of its gross domestic product for health care, which is  "surprisingly low" when compared to the data of other countries in the area such as Laos (4.5% of GDP) and Cambodia (5.6%).


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