Teenage girl's death sparks media frenzy

Nov 27, 2009 (DVB), The death of a 15-year-old girl from a misdiagnosis has sparked a plethora of revelations about Burma's healthcare system, with doctors admitting that they often assess patients in less than a minute.

Several journals in Burma last week carried the story of a girl who died on 27 October after being operated on by a Rangoon doctor for apparent appendicitis. The family later found out that she had dengue fever.

Despite the the surgeon knowing that she had low pressure, an operation on her appendix was nevertheless carried out. Following the surgery, the doctor checked on the girl only once, and she died two days later.

Newspapers and journals have been banned in recent days from publishing news on the incident, although a number of doctors have come forward to complain that the story is symptomatic of a far wider problem in Burma.

"Some of [the doctors] are giving less than a minute for each patient; how can they make a proper, right diagnosis with that?" a Rangoon-based doctor and medical writer told DVB.

He added that doctors working in some private clinics are paid per patient, and therefore often rush diagnoses in order to see as many patients as possible.

Burma spends around 2.3 percent of its GDP per capita on healthcare; around 0.3 percent of the annual budget.

A central court lawyer in Burma said that the girl's death was not an isolated incident in a country whose healthcare system was ranked second worst in the world by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2000.

"There are a lot of cases like that in Burma, but there is no discussion being made on how the doctors, or the clinics or the hospitals should take responsibility on their mistake."

Another lawyer said that patients rarely sue doctors out of fear of backlash. Doctors are held in high social esteem in Burma.

A senior ministry of health official told DVB under condition of anonymity that inspections of medical services were being carried out by the department.

The Burmese government recently announced that it was setting in motion plans to reopen private hospitals that had been abolished under the former Ne Win regime.

Reporting by Ahunt Phone Myat

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