Yangon: Undesired Change for Healthcare Landscape

Healthcare has always been one of Myanmar’s greatest obstacles as a rising nation. For many years, the privileged would receive medical treatment outside of Myanmar in countries like Singapore or Thailand where privatized and more professional help could be given. However, in 2014, the Myanmar government opened its doors to foreign healthcare investment in recognition that the costs and expenditure needed aid and partnership with foreign parties.1 The policy changes embody the freedom to invest in private hospitals, clinics, diagnostic services and devices, as well as health-related education provided they do not own more than 80% of the venture.1 This means that foreign investments must partner with local administrations to run privatized forms of healthcare, giving most of the power towards the foreign party. The result of a policy change like this can help Myanmar as a country develop a better healthcare standard as it will attract more specialists and educators, but could also have a backfiring effect of a lower availability to public healthcare as attention shifts towards private healthcare systems.

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In terms of the city and the urban landscape, one of the newer programs that did not belong to Yangon prior to the policy change in 2014 were private hospitals and private clinics. Since 2014, private investors have flocked towards Yangon to take advantage of the opportunity of privatizing healthcare in Myanmar. In January 2016, the Parkway Yangon Hospital was proposed by Parkway Healthcare Indo-China Pte Ltd., which had a site the size of 4.3-acres expected to open in 2020 with a long-term lease of 50 years.2 Ran and developed by IHH Healthcare Berhad, the project is set to be a $70 million, 250-bed hospital in Yangon hoping to offer a world-class standard of treatment in downtown Yangon.However, in reaction to the new hospital, many heated disputes and protests occurred in the months after the proposal. In February of 2016, the Staff of the Ministry of Health, along with professors and students, signed a petition calling for a halt to the long-term lease of the site.3 Dr. Alinka, a participant in the petition campaign stated that, “There are two reasons… Many public hospitals cannot afford to provide sufficient space, treatment or services to patients… the site should be used for a teaching hospital so that medical students can learn. This is why we oppose the plan.”3 From the governments perspective, the allocation of land to a private healthcare sector was in hopes of generating an investment into medical professionalism that the government could not provide. However, it in fact, does gentrify healthcare as well as disorientate the tradition of healthcare being public.

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After a series of protests, petitions, and negative reactions of the public, on May 12, 2016, politicians in Myanmar’s Lower House (Pyithu Hluttaw) ruled for a halt in the construction of the Parkway Yangon Hospital.4 The ruling was a result of a new elected government coming into power pointing out that many citizens would not be able to afford the services provided by a private hospital. Dr. Lee Hong Huei, Head of Southeast Asia at Parkway Pantai mentioned that, “Our intent is to work effectively with the local medical fraternity to elevate healthcare service standards through training, as well as knowledge and technology transfers.”5 The suspension of the construction of the Parkway Yangon Hospital has become a case of revealing public reactions to private investments in the city. The invitation to foreign healthcare investments without a doubt is a worry for many as standards of healthcare will rise causing accessibility to healthcare to possibly drop for many in Yangon. Although this project was shut down, the outlook of Myanmar’s healthcare sector’s estimated market growth could be worth $1bn by 2018 from its current $650m market value.1 It is without a doubt that the healthcare landscape will continue to change with more private investments making its way through Myanmar.

 

 

Endnotes

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