Burma’s Union Minister for Health Dr Pe Thet Khin called on medical superintendents of central level hospitals to give special attention to the public health care services at the meeting hall of New Yangon General Hospital on 24 April, as said by today The New Light of Myanmar. Health Minister also said that weak public healthcare may put people’s lives at risk. He advised superintendents to take effective measures in order to prevent stealing of funds and reduce wastage and to cooperate with anyone or any organizations devoting themselves to health care services.

He continued that it is still needed to give effective treatment to patients and use effective medicines. He also stressed the importance for hospitals to try to become the ones that win public trust and reliance. In the afternoon, the Union Minister visited Specialist Hospital (Thakayta) in Yangon Region.

While he was there, well-wisher U Myo Win and family donated sets of TV, DVD player and speakers for the hospital and Myanmar Writers and Journalists Association, K 200,000 for sinking of a tube well.

Although the minister highlighted the important of giving special attention to the public health care services, healthcare quota of the national budget possibly will not fulfill his desire. Why?

The Government Gazette released by the previous military junta says that 1.8 trillion kyat (about $2 billion at free market rates of exchange), or 23.6 per cent of the budget this year will go to the defense. The health sector, meanwhile, will get 99.5 billion kyat ($110 million), or 1.3 per cent.

The gazette says the budget was enacted on Jan. 27, just a few days before the country’s parliament met for the first time in more than two decades. The timing apparently means the budget will not need parliamentary approval before coming into effect on April 1. The budget totals 7.6 trillion kyat ($8.45 billion).

The document was enacted before the legislature sat on Jan. 31, according to the Government Gazette. The budget was not been publicized in the mass media, a pattern that has held for at least a decade.

That was one of the significant signals that the transfer of power from the ruling junta — many of the former junta’s generals resigned in order to run as “civilians” — may happen in outward show only.

Burma (Myanmar) is one of Asia’s poorest countries, reflected in its health indicators. It had the 44th highest infant mortality rate of the 193 countries listed by the UNICEF in its 2011 State of the World’s Children report.

According to the UN estimation, one child in three under the age of five is already suffering from malnutrition. Burma’s authoritarian military regime is getting in the way of health community’s efforts to control infectious disease threats in Burma, according to an investigation published in Public Library of Science Medicine.

Dr Chris Beyrer (Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health) and colleagues carried out field investigations in Burma in 2005 and 2006, and also searched the medical and policy literature on HIV, TB, malaria, and avian flu in Burma. The researchers found that the SPDC’s investment in healthcare is one of the lowest worldwide and that the health sector has been weakened by widespread corruption.

The recent Government’s financial statement allowed the health sector 99.5 billion kyat ($110 million), or 1.3 percent of this budget year 2011-12. That means President Thein Sein’s Union Government will spend less than $2 per head on public healthcare.

So, political opposition and independent observers denounce the Burmese junta for the amounts waste on the defense budget, while key areas such as education and health are ignored.

So, Union Minister for Health Dr Pe Thet Khin’s plan to give special attention to the public healthcare services seems to be with little hope while corruption is common throughout the country.

Subscribe to Asian Correspondent

Receive our weekly round-up of the most important stories in Asia

We will never give away, trade or sell your email address. You can unsubscribe at any time.