healthcare and history in the land that the world forgot-Myanmar



This is the common greeting for friends and strangers in Myanmar. The direct translation is, ” it is a blessing” which has dual meaning for hello and goodbye. It also has a wonderful subtext as an offering of ‘ auspicious blessings”. What nicer way could there be to greet and part with someone, than by offering them a blessing.

Traveling to the other side of the world is no euphemism here… I  spent more than 25+ hours in air ravel, approximately 9,856 miles from my home in Atlanta, Georgia to Officially arrive in the Republic of the Union of Myanmar (formally the Republic of Burma). Logistically, it  has been quite the  undertaking to prepare for months gone from your home and outside of the country. Thankfully, I have a village preparing me for my time away, all who have conspired to help me be successful and given me the peace of mind that everything both professionally and personally is under-control while I am serving as a Global Health Fellow. To each and everyone of them… I am grateful!

It is both and honor and a privilege to have the opportunity to represent Pfizer as a Global Fellow and partner with PSI, all while being a first hand eye witness of a country introducing itself to the world and on the precipice of evolution and expansion. Myanmar is a country where access to the outside world had been all but criminalized for more than 4 decades. Trade, communication, innovation and medical advances had been halted for more than 50 years. The world marched on while the population of Myanmar was all but frozen in time. Imagine a country where Coca-Cola was considered contraband until just a few years ago, a place where they skipped right over the concept of black and white TV and were instantly catapulted into color tv, cable television, facebook and cell phones. A good majority of the population in the rural provinces still has little idea of the advancements the world has been making.

The military lead government (junta) was officially dissolved following a 2010 general election and a sparse civilian government was installed. Although the military retains enormous authority it has taken steps toward relinquishing control of the government back to the people. Myanmar is a country that is unquestionably on the verge of growth and modernization, the change in government constraints has allowed forward progress in the country’s foreign relations and has led the way for improvement in trade with Europe and the United States. The upcoming general election in 2015 will definitely be telling for the future of democracy in this country.

At this moment, Myanmar is one of Asia’s poorest countries. When the World Health Organization (WHO) ranked Myanmar against its global counterparts, the country was ranked last out of 190 countries with respect to what the WHO calls “overall health system performance.” %. Myanmar’s government spends the least percentage of its GDP on health care of any country in the world, it spend roughly 2% on healthcare; whereas impoverished Laos spends 4.5%, and Cambodia 5.6% of its GDP on healthcare.

The general state of health care in Myanmar (Burma) is poor. I recently read that Myanmar has barely 61 oncologists in the entire country and a meager 3 radiation machines in all of Yangon. Cardiovascular diagnostic capabilities barely exist anywhere in the country.

A bit of perspective on health care costs in Myanmar, currently it is mostly a private pay system. The average estimated patient’s out of pocket contribution accounts about 92 % of total health care expenses. Today, person in Myanmar needs medical attention, the vast majority will go to a private-pay clinic or monastery where for a small fee, they can receive very basic primary care services. If medicine is prescribed, the individual knows they will have to pay 100% of the costs out of pocket. The net of this is that today’s healthcare consumers in Myanmar are accustomed to taking nearly full responsibility for their individual healthcare costs.

Luckily for Myanmar, the demand for healthcare services, pharmaceutical products and medical innovations will go hand in hand with the economic development and increasing income of the Myanmar people. As Myanmar continues its economic growth, the demand for quality healthcare will undoubtedly increase, as will the demand for access to better more advanced procedures and treatment options.

I will be excited to learn more about this country , its customs, cultures and most importantly its people. As for now, I say to you…



The land of the golden pagodas

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I started the week with a little sight seeing… First up Shewdagon Pagoda! The story goes like this, it is the largest pagoda in Myanmar and the oldest pagoda in the world, more than 2600 years old. It hold remains of all 4 Buddhas and even 8 strands of hair from the Lord Gautama Buddha dating back to 558 BC. These hairs were presented to the then king by 2 merchant brothers fIndia, upon their return to their home land Burma, who had received them from the Buddha himself .,It is said that when the King opened the coffin like case where the hair was stored and….

“There was a tumult among men and spirits … rays emitted by the Hairs penetrated up to the heavens above and down to hell … the blind beheld objects … the deaf heard sounds … the dumb spoke distinctly … the earth quaked … the winds of the ocean blew … Mount Meru shook … lightning flashed … gems rained down until they were knee deep … all trees of the Himalayas, though not in season, bore blossoms and fruit.”

This Shwedgagon Pagoda is pretty awe inspiring and for Buddhist of Myanmar, it is considered the holiest of sites. The Shwegadon Pagoda stands about 300 feet high and is gilded in more than 800 bars of solid gold. The tip of the stupa, far too high for the human eye to discern in any detail, is set with 5448 diamonds, 2317 rubies, sapphires, and other gems, 1065 golden bells and, at the very top, a single 76-carat diamond. It can be said that the Myanmar like a little bling. Surrounding the pagoda are a plentitude of smaller shrines housing pre-Buddhist spirits called Nats, miracle working images, and even a wish granting stone. The worshipers were everywhere… young … old… common people and oh so many monks. This pagoda is said to be the most sacred place for Buddist in all of Myanmar.  It is said, that all Myanmar have an  asspiration to make a religious pilgramige to the Shwedagon Pagoda at least once in thier lifetime.

It was all so glistening, golden and beautiful I didnt even mind that white marble , which had been absorbing the Myanmar penetrating sunrays all day  was searing the bottoms of my feet. I  rather ungracefully hopped from the very few shady spots I could find. It was like those Tom and Jerry cartoons where Tom is walking over the hot coals.  Now  for full disclosure, you are required to remove your shoes and socks before you enter the Pagoda, so even before you enter, on  ground floor at the elevator to the courtyard, up the two stories … NO SHOES OR SOCKS FOR ANYONE!!!  So maybe I am a self professed germ-a-phob, which probably stems from my  recent run in with toxic agents that stripped my immunity and my eyelashes. But somehow this was seemingly very unhygienic and against all things I am comfortable with.  I get it,  the SHWEDAGON PAGODA maybe  the most sacred of  ALL place for Buddhist but I was not loving the dirty-ness( so not a word) or the wretched stentch of B.O in my 42 second elevator ride.  I was sure I would contract west nile or MERS  or even possible catch another case of cancer!! Germ-a-phobs need not enter… your silly hand sanitizer is useless against the bacteria that looms here ( insert evil cackle here!)IMG_1348



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no metal scafolding needed we have bamboo and string??

no metal scafolding needed we have bamboo and string??


I am a friday born my animal is a guinea pig/hamster

I am a friday born my animal is a guinea pig/hamster

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