Mae Tao Slashes Health Services

By Lawi Weng 18 July 2012

Vital health services for migrants and refugees by the Thai-Burmese border are being cut as a flood of international humanitarian organizations move inside Burma in the wake of recent reforms.

Mae Tao Clinic, in Mae Sot, Tak Province, will no longer be able to provide some services with HIV/Aids patients and those requiring referral for extensive treatment at Thai hospitals due to miss out.

Yasmin Ahammad, the fundraising and grants manager for Mae Tao, told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that the clinic might have to reduce blood tests because of limited funding.

“At the moment, we are reviewing the HIV activities. We are not quite sure what we will have to reduce,” she said.

“We also have to review referral costs. Even though only one percent of cases get referred, it can cost up to 15 to 20 percent of our budget as they are very expensive. So we have to look carefully at what cases we are referring and how many we can pay for in hospital.”

Mae Tao Clinic is a crucial resource for thousands of Burmese migrants and refugees who are unable to pay for medical treatment. The clinic receives 500 visitors a day but, due to the funding cut from international donors, is also trying to reduce the number of patients it provides food to on a daily basis.

“We feed 500 people a day. We will try to reduce this to just 350 people a day,” said Yasmin Ahammad.

The clinic also slashed the stipend of staff by 20 percent with health workers now receiving only 1,800 baht per month after the cut.

Mae Tao was founded in 1989 by an ethnic Karen physician, Dr. Cynthia Maung, after thousands of refugees fled into Thailand following a violent crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in Rangoon the previous year.

The clinic’s current budget stands at 120 million baht (US $4 million), 85 million baht of which goes toward various healthcare programs. Some 25 million baht is set aside for education and facilities for children, while the rest of the budget is stretched to fund the construction of schools and new facilities.

Mae Tao also provides direct financial support to one school in Mae Sot, but also facilitates funding for 78 other local schools which host around 17,000 students and provide jobs for no less than 700 teachers.

The clinic has asked for donations such as rice, oil, tinned fish and beans, as well as cash to help fund its services. It costs 300 baht ($10) a month to provide one child with minimum dry food rations.

Most of the patients and schoolchildren that use Mae Tao Clinic are Burmese migrant workers or refugees, including residents of Mae La camp, with a population of some 40,000, where Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi visited on June 2.