‘People Rely on Government Hospitals More Than Ever’

By Htet Naing Zaw 4 May 2015

Rangoon General Hospital is the largest medical care facility in all of Burma. Built in the middle of the colonial era, the hospital comprises 25 specialist departments and provides treatment for cancer, neurological diseases and heart conditions, medical services that are virtually non-existent in the rest of the country. Dr. Pa Pa, the hospital’s medical superintendent, recently sat down with The Irrawaddy’s Htet Naing Zaw to discuss how the hospital is responding to a dramatic increase in both government funding and patient numbers.

Do people still rely more on government hospitals than private hospitals in Burma?

Yes they do. The number of patients we receive in a year has increased from around 25,000 in 2008 to more than 62,000 in 2014. We receive between 300 and 350 emergency patients daily, and 200 to 250 of them stay at the hospital. People rely on government hospitals more than ever. This is partly because we offer free diagnosis and free basic drug prescriptions as much as we can, and partly because of the standard of healthcare given by doctors and nurses here. In the past, the hospital attracted considerable criticism with regard to its service, but now this has started to change. Media outlets do not write as many critical articles as they did in the past about the hospital.

What sort of costs do patients have to cover?

It is difficult to set a specific amount of health expense for patient because illness and severity varies from one patient to another. The health budget has increased significantly since President Thein Sein took power. In 2012-12 we got an unprecedented amount—750 million kyats (US$700,000)— to buy basic drugs. It increased to 2.45 billion kyats ($2.3 million) in 2013-14 and in 2014-15 it was 3.8 billion kyats ($3.5 million) for overall procurement including drugs and medical equipment.

What is being done to upgrade the hospital?

We have opened a five-storey ward equipped with PET-CT scanners and other medical equipment for the diagnosis of cancer. We are giving a facelift to the main building of the hospital, which is over 100 years old. We are building pharmacies and infrastructure to produce oxygen for patient treatment.

We have also given the emergency unit a facelift. We formed the emergency department in 2013 to take better care of critical patients. The government granted 5 billion kyats ($4.7 million) in 2013-14 and 5.5 billion ($5.1 million) kyats in 2014-15 for this work.

In 2013-14 FY, we bought medical equipment worth 14.5 million kyats ($13,500). We have equipped ourselves with advanced diagnostic machines and are offering free services. For example, it costs 10,000 kyats ($9.34) to take a digital X-ray at private clinic, but here we offer it for free.

Does the hospital have sufficient staff?

The size of the workforce has been unchanged since 2008. I have proposed a new organizational structure to the Ministry of Health in Naypyidaw. The current workforce is around 1,700 people and the new organizational structure I have proposed will double that.

What assistance does the hospital offer to those who can’t afford to pay for treatment?

We offer blood transfusions for free, whereas patients previously had to pay for this service. Nine of the 15 kinds of drugs we carry used to treat cancer patients are provided free of charge. In some cases where patients cannot afford to pay for prescriptions, the hospital will arrange for drugs to be provided for free.

Has the treatment of patients by doctors and nurses changed in recent years?

From specialists to administrative staff, all have to work harder to cope with the growing number of patients. We have been receiving fewer complaints about our services and we see less criticism of us in the media. This implies the relationship between doctors and patients has improved.