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The grand unveiling of a new hospital in the Irrawaddy delta’s cyclone-stricken Labutta township has been met with controversy after locals in the town claim the ceremony was a charade.
The hospital in Labutta township, where some 80,000 people died during 2008’s cyclone Nargis, was opened to great fanfare on 28 September and made the front page of the New Light of Myanmar newspaper on Wednesday as Burmese Prime Minister Thein Sein cut the proverbial red tape.
“The newly-opened extended hospital (200-bed) is made up of out-patient department, intensive care department, x-ray room, surgical ward, orthopaedic ward, obstetric and gynecological ward, pediatric ward, emergency room and operation theatre,” the newspaper said.
But locals in Labutta township think otherwise: one man told DVB that the patients and equipment in the hospital were transferred over from Labutta Township Hospital for the unveiling.
“The patients were moved to the new hospital one day in advance of its opening with the promise of 10,000 kyat [US$10] pay,” he said. “Still, [township authorities] couldn’t find enough people to fill it up so they had to hire the patients’ carers.”
And when Thein Sein left, he added, the patients and equipment were sent back to their original abode, while “the patients didn’t get the 10,000 kyat they were promised”.
“Now there is no equipment or doctors there, but only at the Labutta [Township] Hospital. The new hospital’s construction is not properly finished yet – some buildings there still have no windows.
“This is damaging to us the locals as now senior government officials have acknowledged that there is a new 200-bed hospital to give us treatment but in reality there is nothing there.”
The Burmese government’s health department was unavailable for comment. Under military rule, demand to meet strict deadlines issued by the top brass often results in stunts like these as lower-ranking officials look to avoid punishment.
Slow development is also compounded by meagre government spending on healthcare – around US$0.50 per person each year. A World Health Organisation (WHO) report in 2000 ranked Burma’s healthcare system second worst in the world, one place above the then war-ravaged Sierra Leone.