Analysis: Is Suu Kyi’s Health Cause for Concern?

By The Irrawaddy 20 March 2018

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s abrupt cancellation of an event at the Lowy Institute disappointed some in Australia. “This afternoon, the Lowy Institute was informed by the Myanmar Embassy that the State Counsellor will no longer be able to participate in this event as she is not feeling well. The event is now cancelled,” the Lowy Institute said in a statement.

Before she flew to Australia for a summit between Australia and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Suu Kyi, 73, had a routine medical check-up.

Rumors of her ill health and her hesitance to take long-haul flights have been discussed by some Asian diplomats in Myanmar.

“She is downcast …. Now under enormous pressure…,” an Asian diplomat with extensive knowledge of Myanmar remarked a few months ago.

But she traveled to Australia, where she received a 19-gun salute, discussed the situation in Rakhine State with heads of state behind closed doors, and held talks with Myanmar citizens who came out to support her.

“We discussed the situation in Rakhine State at considerable length today,” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told reporters at the end of the summit.

“Daw Aung San Suu Kyi addressed the matter comprehensively at some considerable length herself… She seeks support from ASEAN and other nations to provide help from a humanitarian and capacity-building point of view.”

Her health is of great concern, but some skeptics will say the event cancellation was an avoidance of an uneasy question and answer session over sensitive topics. Since her administration assumed power, she has avoided local media and spoken to few foreign media organizations including the BBC.

In 2016, months after her government came to power, Suu Kyi traveled to the US, where she met with President Obama and held several meetings in Washington, D.C. It was a two-week trip that also included a stop in London.

During the visit, for the first time, the state counselor addressed the United Nations in New York where she spoke about peace and sustainable solutions in strife-torn Myanmar.

Subsequently, she also spoke at the Asia Foundation. But she was forced to cancel a meeting with the Partnership Group on Burma in New York, taking a doctor’s advice to rest.

It was reported that she joked, during a visit to Roosevelt High School, that it would be good for her health to be placed under house arrest again on the weekends. Landing in Yangon, Suu Kyi arrived fatigued, reportedly briefly using a wheelchair.

Back in Myanmar, her office responded stating that her health was “not a cause for concern,” as rumors swirled on social media about the state counselor being seen in a wheelchair at the airport after arriving from the US.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s health is stable, but she is suffering from weakness and exhaustion and needs to rest following more than two weeks of official travel to the United States and Britain, a government official said.

Some diplomats didn’t believe that she was ill but avoiding the issue of the Rohingya.

Last year, facing a storm of global criticism over issues in northern Rakhine State in which she and the military were accused of ethnic cleansing and genocide, the Nobel laureate canceled her planned visit to the United Nations General Assembly. She addressed diplomats and media in the capital and sent her vice president instead to New York.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s health has long been under scrutiny, despite her being known as health-conscious, having undergone regular medical check-ups even while under house arrest.

In September, she underwent a medical checkup at the Grand Hantha Hospital in Yangon. She also reportedly undergoes regular medical checkups in Naypyitaw. She had an eye operation a few years ago.

Last year, there was a rumor that she had been paralyzed, which was untrue. But political observers and party members were left agreeing that the public should know about the health of the highest official in the government.

Myint Soe, her former chef, published memoirs a few years back and mentioned that the state counselor was health conscious.

“She doesn’t eat red meat. She shuns MSG and oily food. She wants less salt in her food. Fish, prawns and vegetables are her meals of choice. Plus, chicken and duck,” Soe told The Irrawaddy. “She is very health-conscious. She told me to use sugar as a substitute for MSG. She doesn’t want to be fat, either.”