SMRU Seminar: Health Care in a Changing National Landscape

On the 30th anniversary of the Shoklo Malaria Research Unit (SMRU), a seminar was held on 13-14 December 2016 in Mae Sot, Thailand, to examine the theme "Health care in a changing national landscape" with a focus on malaria, maternal health and TB/HIV. At a time of critical change, the SMRU anniversary marked an opportune moment to reflect, and look forward, on important issues in national transition in Myanmar at the junction between health, science, economics and politics. Attended by over 200 participants, the meeting represented a diversity of national backgrounds, specialisms and interests.

This new report, Myanmar: Health Care in a Changing National Landscape – Lessons, Challenges and Aspirations on the Way Forward, summarizes the main conclusions and points of discussion. Among key issues:

  • A defining moment of opportunity, but also risk, has been reached in addressing the health challenges of malaria, TB/HIV and maternal health.
  • Although there have been important advances in health delivery, internal conflict and community displacement are compounding the difficulties in national health provision.
  • Concerns are not lessening about drug resistance and other challenges in the treatment of malaria, TB and HIV. 
  • Serious deficiencies remain in access to services for maternal health care.
  • Improved collaboration is essential between different health providers, including governmental, non-governmental and community-based organisations.
  • International aid agencies should support “do no harm” policies.
  • Migration and refugee flight confirm Myanmar’s front-line position on a strategic crossroads in addressing international health challenges. 
  • Research and analysis need to be strengthened, with greater emphasis on health impacts.
  • As international funding reaches a peak, structural reforms are essential in national financing if health progress is to continue. 

Daunting tasks clearly remain, but recent developments in national transition provide confidence that solutions do exist to many of the present health challenges, as long as opportunities are taken and appropriate policies developed. Peace will be essential. As the report concludes:

During the last few years, hopes have been engendered by greater health focus in peace and reform discussions. It is vital that this momentum continues. The experiences of the past three decades have shown that health initiatives must be inclusive and not the cause of new divisions or disparities within the country. In the coming years, this will require a continued demonstration of the government’s commitment to health and a real sense of community ownership by the people.

Image: Skipping girls: Local girls at SMRU's 30th Anniversary celebrations in Dec 2016. © SMRU/Photo by SawHsaDah
Skipping girls: Local girls at SMRU's 30th Anniversary celebrations in Dec 2016. © SMRU/Photo by SawHsaDah

Download full report here


Text by Martin Smith, Independent Expert member of the former Three Diseases Fund board




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