Monks Face Mounting Medical Expenses

By Nyein Nyein 19 December 2012

Less than a week after being sent to Bangkok to receive treatment for severe burns sustained in a crackdown on anti-copper mine protests last month, 64-year-old monk U Teikkha Nyana’s long road to recovery has hit a major hurdle: a lack of money to cover his medical expenses.

Nay Thandar Khine, the monk’s daughter, said that within just two days of arriving in the Thai capital last Friday, his medical expenses exceeded the 1 million baht (US $32,670) the Burmese government had provided for his treatment.

Due to infections that have complicated his condition, the elderly monk will require at least two more weeks of intensive care before he is ready to receive skin grafts on large areas of his back, legs and arms, she said.

“He has already undergone several operations, and he is suffering a great deal,” she added, speaking to The Irrawaddy on Wednesday. Doctors have told her that a fully recovery will take a further two months.

While the monk’s prognosis remains far from clear, the question of who will pay for his treatment is even more shrouded in doubt. The family said it hopes to receive assistance from a government-appointed commission formed to investigate the Nov. 29 raid on a protest camp outside the controversial Letpadaung copper mine in Sagaing Division that injured nearly 100 monks.

“I spoke with Dr Tin Mar Aung [the personal physician of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who heads the commission]. She said she will speak to the commission about this matter,” said Dr Nay Thu Rein, the monk’s son.

U Teikkha Nyana was injured when local authorities used water cannons and incendiary devices against protesters opposed to the Chinese-owned Letpadaung mine. Before being transferred to Bangkok, he was treated at hospitals in Mandalay and Rangoon.

Four other monks have also received care at Rangoon General Hospital’s special burn unit. Of these, three have made good progress in their recovery, while a fourth remains in serious condition, according to U Wimala, a monk who leads a support team for the injured Buddhist clerics.

“Ashin Thisana is still in serious condition and may need to go to Bangkok,” said U Wimala. Ashin Thisana, a 14-year-old novice from the Myoma Shwe Ku Monastery in Monywa, has extensive burns on his legs, buttocks and left side, said U Wimala.

On Tuesday, Suu Kyi visited the hospitalized monks and said that the commission probing the Letpadaung incident would take responsibility for their medical expenses, said U Wimala, adding that President’s Office Minister Hla Htun also said the government agreed to arrange for the care of monks requiring treatment abroad.

However, no formal arrangements have yet been made in the case of Ashin Thisana, so further discussions will be necessary, added U Wimala.

Apart from the monks currently hospitalized in Rangoon and Bangkok, 10 other monks and three laypeople are still being treated in Mandalay.

On Saturday, the government formally apologized directly to the monks affected by the crackdown, following a series of protests in support of the injured monks last week.

The day before, state-run media reported that U Teikkha Nyana had been transferred to a hospital in Bangkok at the government’s expense, but was not in serious condition.

Dr Nay Thu Rein said he thanked the government for its assistance, but urged the state media to correct its erroneous reports about his father’s condition.