Mon 16 Jul 2012
Filed under: Health
ELIZABETH JACKSON: A team of doctors from Australia and Hong Kong has launched a new program to train the first local specialists in emergency medicine in Burma.
Seven Australian and four Hong Kong-based doctors have just begun an in-country training program in Rangoon to train Burma’s first team of emergency physicians.
The launch of the project follows rapid political reform in Burma, which is opening new doors for international medics who are suddenly able to freely share their knowledge to build capacity in the underdeveloped country.
Southeast Asia correspondent Zoe Daniel caught up with the trainers and trainees in Rangoon.
ZOE DANIEL: The relationship began after Cyclone Nargis in 2008, when international trauma specialists were invited to share their knowledge with those dealing with the disaster in Burma.
Burmese born Dr James Kong, from Asia Medical Specialists in Hong Kong, was working in Rangoon at the time and used his contacts at the Royal Australian College of Surgeons to get them involved.
JAMES KONG: I was here doing Cyclone Nargis and operating in the operating room when my apartment roof went away with the cyclone. And I went back to Hong Kong; at the college meeting, an international meeting of the Australian College in Hong Kong in 2008 I spoke at the college about how people could help in this country.
And the college wanted to send a team but I said really sending people just to come for a relief effort was not really what was needed but to help capacity development.
ZOE DANIEL: Cyclone Nargis killed hundreds of thousands of people. It would have been a massive disaster in any country, but it exposed some obvious gaps in the knowledge of Burmese medical staff.
It’s unsurprising in a country that’s been so closed off to the world for many years and remains extremely underdeveloped.
Less than 3 per cent of government expenditure goes to healthcare; the rate of $12 per head of population is one of the lowest in the world.
But now there’s a chance to deliver much needed training at least.
JAMES KONG: I believe that by helping plant the seed of emergency care, we can bring overall a development, an increase, an improvement of the quality of health care that the whole country can provide.
ZOE DANIEL: Dr Georgina Phillips, from St Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne, first worked in the country in 2009 under the College of Surgeons initiative, which has since trained 800 local doctors, 40 of whom are now trainers themselves.
She’s just completed another stint training specialists in emergency medicine, the first course of its kind to be delivered in Burma, also known as Myanmar.
GEORGINA PHILLIPS: It’s a group of emergency physicians predominantly but with some surgeons and anaesthetists who’ve developed a course specifically for this context, to introduce the concepts of emergency medicine, some of the systems, like triage, designing an emergency department, managing patient flow, thinking about pre-hospital care and ambulance system, disaster preparedness and mass gatherings and then also focussing on some clinical, introducing key clinical skills.
ZOE DANIEL: How big an undertaking is it to train people in this type of thing in a country where capacity’s obviously quite low?
GEORGINA PHILLIPS: Of course it’s an enormous undertaking but we’ve been coming for the last three years to teach primary trauma skills. And so I know that the local clinicians have high capacity to learn and are desperate to learn these sorts of clinical skills and leadership and teamwork skills.
ZOE DANIEL: Professor Zaw Wai Soe from the Yangon General Hospital will be one of those following the emergency training through locally.
He says it’s a huge step to be able to access this sort of international knowledge, after so many years of being limited by repression, which has stunted every area of society.
ZAW WAI SOE: In Myanmar we don’t have EMS, Emergency Medical Service. We don’t have ambulance system and we don’t have that much facility in the hospital to manage the emergency – not only a facility but also the manpower and we don’t have the training for the emergency management in Myanmar before.
ZOE DANIEL: How does it feel to you to be able to be involved in this kind of training I guess when there were limitations on improving the situation until now?
ZAW WAI SOE: The dream come true. You know we can save our people’s lives.
ZOE DANIEL: Trainee doctor Aye Thiri Naing who is a Burmese paediatrician agrees. Better ability to deliver emergency care will save lives.
AYE THIRI NAING: Establishment of emergency medicine in our country we can save lots and lots of paediatric lives because we don’t need to transfer back to the other place to get the proper treatment, we can do it all by myself in the one stop.
ZOE DANIEL: Trainees will participate in a number of sessions over 18 months and will finish equipped with a Diploma in Emergency Medicine.
This is Zoe Daniel reporting from Rangoon for Correspondents Report.