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Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi bemoaned the state of healthcare in Burma when she addressed international policymakers in Qatar on Tuesday. However, she said, human values and spirituality were still the key ingredients of innovative healthcare in the 21st century.
“The kind of innovative healthcare to which I look forward is the one rooted in human values and in spirituality, which will help us come together as we move forward into the 21st century,” she said, speaking in a keynote address at the World Innovation Summit on Health or WISH.
“Please do not look at healthcare innovation only in terms of technology, training and medical education, but in terms of poor society, nurturing to the basics towards creating a healthy society in the best sense of the word,” she said. “It is only in this way that we can be sure that our world – which is getting smaller by the day – will be a happier place for all of us to live in.
“If we can live together in serenity,” she continued, “we will be providing our people with the best healthcare possible.”
She recalled how Burmese people used to boast of the best healthcare system in their region, and noted, “We inherited a good healthcare system from the colonial era and after the independence, our governments built on that legacy and made the healthcare in Burma one of the best in the region. But after the military regime came to power in the 1960s, that good legacy filtered away and now we are one of the countries in the world with the poorest healthcare system.”
Suu Kyi reserved praised for Burma’s doctors and, in particular, nurses who she said are known to be patient, kind and compassionate.
She stressed that Burma is a poor country but one which is blessed with many natural resources, and that the country is striving to harness all those resources to build a state in which people can all live in happiness and peace.
“Our most valuable resource is our human resources … our people – and not our natural resources or extractive industries – that will make Burma once again a great country that will be recognised as progressive, as innovative and world leading in caring for its people,” she said.
“I would like to see the kind of healthcare system that is dependent not only on wealth but on values. I would like to transform the healthcare of our country, we can start from scratch and that is a great advantage in many ways,” she added.
A World Health Organisation report in 2000 ranked Burma’s healthcare system second worst in the world, one place above the then war-ravaged Sierra Leone.
Burma’s health crisis is particularly severe in war-torn ethnic regions such as Karen state, where thousands of victims of the 60-year civil war are often forced to flee to Thailand for medical treatment. Poverty in rural areas has been identified as a leading cause of child deaths in Burma where over 56,000 children under the age of five die every year.
Burma currently spends less than 4 percent of its annual budget on healthcare, compared to some 20 percent on the military.
See video: DVB Debate – Healthcare in Burma