Inpatient Department

The Clinic’s Inpatient Department treats a variety of conditions, with a special isloation ward for patients with particularly contageous illnesses such as Tuberculosis.

This woman is recieving special treatment for acute pneumonia

Founded in 1999, the IPD treated all cases in the same space. As needs and the number of patients increased, the IPD expanded its services and facilities, separating the department into different units: medical, children, reproductive health, and trauma/surgery.

The Inpatient Department (IPD) admits patients with severe medical problems (non-trauma) 24-hours a day. The most common cases seen continue to be malaria, acute respiratory infection, urinary tract infection, gastritis/ulcer and diarrhoea. There is also a continuing increase in the number of chronic cases, which include cancer, sclerosis, hypertension, nephritic syndrome and heart disease.

Beyond the regular patient caseload, staff at MTC must be prepared for the unexpected effects of extreme weather, such as the cholera outbreak in 2007.

The IPD is a basic building, but some renovations have provided additional space for patients. There is also an area for the medics to prepare medications, see follow-ups, conduct training, store supplies, have a small medical reference library, and keep an archive of past medical records.

For severe cases that cannot be treated at MTC, the referral programme to Mae Sot Hospital (MSH) is a possibility. Department Manager Saw Muni and the medical staff are faced with the task of deciding who will be referred for treatment, taking into account the survival rate of the patient and the cost of treatment. A lack of facilities and resources makes it a hard process for both the staff and patients.


Average length of stay 6 days
Referrals per year 170
Number of shifts per day 3 (80 staff)
Number of beds 50 with overflow of 20

An IPD Isolation Ward

Late arrival at the clinic is an important factor in the number of deaths per year (approximately 190). Transportation costs to the clinic are high, and illegal immigrants who are less ill are more likely to be arrested than those who are severely ill. Hence, they often delay too long before coming. About 35% of mortalities occur within 48 hours of admission.

In some cases, the whole family travels with the patient to avoid getting lost in the case of arrest or deportation or simply because there are no economic means to travel back and forth to the clinic. The presence of family members increases crowding at the clinic. Beds are frequently close together and patients often have to be accommodated in the space available between the beds. There is an immediate need for isolation rooms for patients with communicable diseases, especially now that there is no longer an external tuberculosis programme for patients.

Staff retention is one of the main concerns of the department. Saw Muni summarises the plight well: “If we look for our strong points, we have trained a lot of medics…if we look for the weak points we have trained a lot of medics that have left”. There is hope that the staff will have more long-term medics and training, especially considering the expansion plans of the clinic.
In 1998, about 80% of admissions were related to malaria.  Over time, the range of illnesses treated has become broader – but the constant over time has been that patients arrive at the clinic with illnesses in advanced states. Since many patients arrive with terminal illness, the IPD functions part of the time like a hospice. Working constantly with terminal patients has a strong impact on the younger health workers. If the patients could have a higher level of health knowledge, act more on prevention, and obtain treatment earlier, many of the conditions, such as malnutrition for example, would be preventable or treatable.  The IPD also faces family issues – a patient may be dropped at the clinic by friends or family, however, these people frequently cannot afford to miss work in order to be their attendant. The responsibility falls upon the medics to support patients who face death without friends or family.

The main IPD ward

In other cases, the whole family travels to the clinic together. They may live far away and are unfamiliar with Mae Sot. If the family is migrant or displaced already, they fear being split up by circumstances if they don’t travel together.  For example, in the case of arrest or deportation, they could have great difficulty finding one another again. The family may not have the resources to travel back and forth to the clinic every day, or have difficulty travelling freely due to security. Sometimes, the family members will search for work in Mae Sot while attending to a sick family member.

One might be tempted to declare victory when a patient’s condition has improved and is able to go back home. However, for many patients, this merely heralds the beginning of the next set of challenges. They may not have money to get back home, face security and travel challenges, and their old job may no longer be waiting for them even if they do complete the journey without incident.
In order to carry out their duties successfully, the IPD medics must possess medical ability, as well as the ability to counsel patients, support them, and refer them to other clinic social services. One of the most difficult challenges for the medics is to manage the psychosocial aspects. While the death rate is very high, the community spirit of the patients is unbreakable. The HIV/AIDS patients stay in the clinic for a long time, become a close-knit community, and take care of each other.

Unfortunately, there is no space in the ward for relaxation or recreation for long-term patients, and many don’t have sufficient clothing, blankets or basic necessities. One by-product is that the visual impact for visitors can be a shock.  Desperately poor patients arrive with few basic necessities and after long travel.  The patients often leave with blankets, meaning that the clinic is constantly in short supply, some patients are accompanied by an entire family who may sleep under their bed, and they can be very dirty due to travelling and sleeping on the floor. While they may receive good care and treatment, there may be visual shock at the patient’s physical appearance in the crowded and disorganised ward. Dr Cynthia stresses the importance of looking past the initial appearance, avoiding judgment, and looking more closely at the most important elements – quality of care and strength of the community.

Under the misnomer of a “clinic”, Mae Tao Clinic also functions as a hospital facility, with several inpatient departments (IPD). Until 1999, there was only one inpatient department, treating medical, trauma, reproductive health, and child inpatients all in the same space. In 1999, the continually growing patient population led to the expansion of the clinic and separation of departments, eventually resulting in the Medical, Children’s, Reproductive Health, and Trauma/Surgery IPDs that exist today.

This chlid is staying in Adult IPD with her sick parents

Established in 1999, the Medical IPD was a combined service for both adults and children. The most common cases seen continue to be malaria, acute respiratory infection, and diarrhoea, with a continuing increase in the number of chronic cases being seen at the clinic, including cancer, sclerosis, hypertension, nephritic syndrome, and heart disease.  Among children, malnutrition is also a common case, and this was one of the leading reasons for the development of a separate Children’s IPD in 2005; children with weakened immune systems needed to be separated from patients with contagious illnesses.

Beyond the regular patient caseload, staff of MTC must be prepared for the unexpected, such as the cholera outbreak in 2007, or other effects of extreme weather seen in tropical climates. The rainy season from May to September, for example, always brings an increase in the number of patients arriving with malaria. In addition, the further word spreads of the services of MTC, the more chronic cases are presented at the clinic. Even in a well-equipped, modern hospital setting, these cases would be an extreme challenge.

For severe cases that cannot be treated at MTC, the referral programme to Mae Sot Hospital (MSH) becomes a possibility. Department Manager Saw Muni and the staff of the Medical IPDs are charged with the unenviable task of deciding who will be referred for treatment and who will not be. There are procedures and protocols to follow, but this does not make it easier. Staff must first consider the potential survival rate of the patient, and then the cost of treatment, referring only the patients that require a one-time visit to the hospital, and not on-going hospital visits. Of course, these decisions are made in developed countries, but not to this extent, and not on a daily basis. Frustration and sadness is evident when talking with Saw Muni. “I am sad because we cannot treat all of the patients, we don’t have enough facilities or enough money to refer the patients.  If I see sick patients, and I can’t do anything for them, I feel very sad.  And when the patients die…we see a lot of death.”

The Medical IPDs are also plagued with the challenge of staff retention. Saw Muni summarises the plight well, “If we look for our strong points…we have trained a lot of medics. If we look for the weak points…we have trained a lot of medics that have left.” With the introduction of a resettlement programme in 2004, the clinic has suffered extensive loss of staff, but Saw Muni expresses the understanding and acceptance for those that choose to resettle in a third country, “We are human beings. We want to improve our lives. If we are just living, with nothing to hope for…people don’t want to live like this.”

There is hope that the future will see the training of more long-term staff, especially as there are more plans for expansions in Medical IPD.  As an example of possible future development, the department still requires better isolation of patients with communicable diseases, especially now that there is no longer an external Tuberculosis  programme. There is also the hope for greater coordination and partnership with other health organisations, Mae Sot Hospital, and the Thai community. Communicable illnesses like TB quickly become devastating public health issues that don’t recognise borders. The increase in cross-border patients requires greater collaboration in the community to battle health issues.

The IPD cannot alone solve the problem of cross-border tuberculosis, malnutrition, lack of health care inside Burma, or the extreme social and economic challenges of the patients. The IPD aspires to treat the patients with the best care possible with its resources, utilising strong collaboration with other clinic departments as well as other organisations to address the broader issues that result in its high caseloads.