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Some 200 residents in the Irrawaddy Division town of Myaungmya protested on Sunday, calling on government authorities to investigate the town’s public hospital for alleged extortion and misappropriation of medical supplies.
Chanting slogans as they marched through town, the protestors claimed that doctors and staff at the hospital refuse to treat patients unless they pay gratuities or additional fees – a practice that has claimed lives from those who could not afford the costs.
“We are protesting extortion by doctors at the Myaungmya public hospital who refuse to see patients who cannot pay bribes,” protest leader Sitt Aung said. “They only treat those who will pay extra – perhaps 80,000 kyat [about US$80] for an ‘exclusive’ operation and 40,000 kyat for an ordinary procedure.”
“Patients have died from struggling to pay for their treatment,” he added.
Other residents attested to seeing hospital staff yank tubes out of patients after realizing that they could not afford to pay or turning away people in need just because they looked poor.
Aye Mon Soe told DVB that she lost her child because the hospital staff would not provide adequate care after she told them she could not afford the 15,000 kyat fee – a mere $15.
“I told the doctors that my child could not handle an IV drip and that giving him glucose would make him worse, but they administered it anyway,” Aye Mon Soe said. “He died after two drips.”
She added: “The doctors and nurses here have no compassion, no heart at all.”
Irrawaddy Division Finance Minister Win Ko Ko said at a town hall meeting on 9 July that an independent investigation team had been formed and divisional authorities were looking into the allegations of corruption among hospital staff.
Observers say the Myaungmya case is by no means an isolated incident; public hospitals in Burma are typically rife with corruption, with staff members frequently demanding “tea money” or “facilitation fees” before agreeing to provide basic health care.
Burma currently allocates 3.38 percent of the national budget to the health sector, an amount the UN has said is inadequate – especially when compared to developing countries in the region.