Ethnic People Flock to Rangoon for Healthcare

By Lawi Weng 28 November 2012

RANGOON—Hundreds of ethnic people are descending on Rangoon every day to seek medical treatment because of the dire healthcare on offer in their home states.

Taking buses from Moulmein to Burma’s commercial hub, ethnic Mon patients take refuge at one of the 30 or so monasteries in Bahan Township. Despite the higher cost of healthcare, they are amongst the many rural people still happy to make the journey because of the better standard of medical treatment on offer.

At least a dozen Mon arrive each day at Manee Wazee Ra Monastery, according to Abbot Talakon Naing. The building has four floors filled with coughing newcomers who squeeze into the spaces vacated by those who have recently departed.

“We built this monastery to help our Mon people,” said Talakon Naing. “We ask what we can do to help whoever arrives here and so we send them to the clinic.”

For many of the patients, this is their first time in Rangoon and they feel anxious in the bustling metropolis that is so different from village life. Most health complaints encountered by The Irrawaddy concerned kidneys, heart, liver, eyes or cancer.

People complain that civil hospitals and private clinics at home are not reliable and doctors sometimes even give the wrong results. Patients are often sent home to die after being x-rayed, only to recover once they receive treatment in the former capital.

Nai Win Sein said that his doctor in Moulmein told him there was no hope and to just go home and wait for death. “But I am fine after I took treatment in Rangoon, and I learned that my illness was just a heart attack,” said the 50-year-old.

Despite the dire state of medical treatment all over Burma—healthcare received just 1.3 per cent of the national budget last year—the difference between the cities and rural areas remains acute.

Mi Kyi brought her father to Rangoon’s Htaw Win Royal Clinic for medical treatment. “I told my dad to take off his clothes as I thought we were in the x-ray room,” she said. “But it turned out to be an elevator.”

Another patient called Nai Mint confirmed that Rangoon is not only a destination for the Mon, but also for other people from different states seeking better medical treatment.

Many ethnic people cannot speak the Burmese language and must enlist the help of local monks to interpret during consultations with doctors. The clergymen also take patients to the clinics as they are unfamiliar with Rangoon’s overwhelming transport system.

Some elderly people have never experienced air conditioning before and claim that it makes them queasy on the bus. “When I was car-sick, I did not feel like coming to Rangoon anymore,” said 71-year-old Nai Nyo. “I thought I should die in my village instead of coming to the city.”

The ethnic Mon had medical treatment in Moulmein where his doctor said he did not have Tuberculosis. However, he was still not sure and so came to Rangoon for a second opinion.

Although the initial diagnosis proved to be correct, he said that it was worth making the journey to be sure.

Ah Win, a kidney patient, was told that he needed an operation at Moulmein Hospital but was treated with a course of drugs after coming to Rangoon. He said that a friend who had an operation in Mon State needed another procedure afterwards in Rangoon.

“My friend told me that they just did a fake operation, which just cut the skin,” said Ah Win. “He found this out when he had another operation in Rangoon.”