A familiar face often seen around the Reproductive Health Impatient Department is Nan Win Kyi, age 38 years. She comes from Dwei .Her husband died from Malaria when she was 2 months pregnant with her son. At that time she was facing many problems for living so she decided to move to Mawlamyaing to get a job. She worked at a food stall without pay because someone took money for her wage. After 5 months, some customers felt pity for her so they helped her to go to MTC at Mae Sot across the border in Thailand to have her baby. During her travel to MTC she didn’t have anything to eat and so she got weak and sick. The medic at MTC took care of her, gave her a blood transfusion, treated her with kindness and gave her food. After she got better she asked the medic for a place to stay the medic helped her to find a place to stay at the SAW (Social Action for Women) organization. After she delivered her baby boy at MTC, She went back to SAW again and continued to stay there until her baby was 3 months. After that she went back to MTC with her baby and founded odd jobs like washing patient’s clothes and work for the patients when they needed help. Sometimes she got money for these but some time not because some patients are very poor. Last year she found a temple that has an orphanage so she sent her baby there to get free study and care from there. For the last 3 months she has been married to a man who work in construction for her security and she wants to depend on someone. She said “as the medic took care me when I was trouble, I will help the patients as much as I can and I will continue to work at MTC until I leave Thailand”. She feels that work in MTC is very safe for her. During MTC’s flooding, she was very motivated to help the patients and staff. She carried the clinic’s and patient’s materials to move to CDC school. Also she brought the patients who can’t walk well. According to interview with her she said “during the flooding the medics were very busy taking care of the patients as their own families so that I really respect them and want to work with them”.
Poe Ei’s Story
Poe Ei is 23, and is from Bago, Burma, although she is living in Thin GanNyi Naung, Myawaddy division, now. She has three siblings. Her eldest sister is 25 years and her youngest brother is 18 years old. When she was young she worked at a factory together with her siblings in Yangon. Two years ago she married a man from Mawlamyaing and they both moved to Myawaddy. Her husband works at a car workshop but they don’t have a regular income, so sometimes they have to borrow money for food, but are always able to pay it back. They stay at an apartment that costs 20,000 Kyat per month and their average daily expenditure is 2,500 Kyat. There is no electricity for cooking so they are using charcoal and use candles at night.
In the past, they had never come to Mae Tao Clinic. They just went to the clinic in Myawaddy and had to spend at least 4,000 Kyat each time. Po Ei feels that that is too expensive, especially because they don’t have extra money for the treatment.
On Sunday 28th July 2013, she and her husband travelled by boat and car to get to MTC to deliver their first child. Poe Ei knew that the risk of complications during her birth was high, and knew that if she delivered here, she would receive comprehensive free care and food. She had already entered labour in Myawaddy and was in labour throughout the rising floods and evacuation to CDC, finally giving birth on Tuesday 30th July in a makeshift delivery room that was actually the CDC kitchen.
When Poe Ei’s son, Zin Min Soe, was born, she was happy and healthy. They only had to spend 1,000 THB for transportation and baby clothes and had no need to worry about food, shelter or medical care costs. She was very grateful to MTC for delivering her healthy baby, even if the location was less than conventional. She says the staff were very kind and helpful.
She’s already making plans for Zin Min Soe’s future now that he has received birth registration: “We are preparing to move to Thailand for our baby’s future. I will work hard to send my baby to go to school so he becomes an educated person”.
Soe Mayar’s Story
This is one-year old Soe Mayar. She was born in Mae Sot, Thailand. Soe Mayar’s parents had moved to Thailand because they faced a difficult life in Burma. She has four sisters- two elder sisters are working at a factory in Bangkok, they are 15 and 17 years of age. The other two sisters couldn’t go to school because their parents were not able to support them. Soe Mayar’s mother had already been to Mae Tao Clinic before with malaria.
Soe Mayar’s parents are working in Mae sot. They can only find part-time work. Sometimes they just get 100 baht a day. They don’t have money to pay for treatment in Mae Sot Hospital and they do not have ID cards. Therefore Soe Mayar’s parents decided to come to Mae Tao Clinic and treat her. First she had measles and then developed pneumonia. She has spent 4 days in treatment so far. “Soe Mayar was never vaccinated for measles so it would have been more serious if she had not come to the clinic early”, said one health worker. “Now it is better than before, she may be ready to move back home in 2 days”.
Soe Mayar’s mother is glad to have come to Mae Tao Clinic because her daughter has improved with treatment. She has come whenever a family member feels sick. She is so happy and thankful to the health workers because they are so good at treatment and she did not need to travel and pay for treatment in Burma.
Aung Ko’s Story
He wasn’t able to study when he was younger because his family were very poor and he needed to take care of them. His current job is very dangerous because he works in rock blasting – where they create explosions with mines to make gravel. His income is only enough to cover food costs for his family, but not for health care or other essentials. He has to move very often for work, which meant that his daughter’s education has been very disrupted.
Unfortunately, he recently suffered a very serious work injury from a blast. He has injuries all over his body and severely injured both eyes. Soon after the accident, he went to a local clinic where he received first aid, a tetanus vaccination, eye drops and bandages. He did not have money to pay for further treatment so he decided to travel to Mae Tao Clinic. Due to the severity of his injuries, Mae Tao Clinic referred him to Mae Sot Hospital after he arrived. He was admitted to Mae Sot hospital for four days and he had to have his right eye removed. Fortunately, he can still see with his left eye. He can go back home in two days, but currently does not have the money for the transportation, so MTC staff will help him get back home. He will need to return to Mae Tao Clinic next month to get fitted with an artificial eye.
He told us that he is very satisfied with his treatment and said, “everything is fine here, I can’t complain about anything, because the quality of services is better than in the area I’m living”.
Say Say’s story
Say Say is just two months old. She comes from Myawaddy township in Burma. Say Say has three brothers and one sister. Say Say’s mother
came to Mae Tao Clinic with malaria several years ago and since then, she has returned regularly to get all her children vaccinated.
Say Say’s parents are farmers and they don’t have a regular income. When Say Say started getting sick, her mother took her to see a doctor at a private clinic in Myawaddy. But Say Say did not get better after the doctor treated her, and her mother believes that the doctor did not give the correct treatment.
Say Say’s mother started getting very worried about her daughter and decided to come to Mae Tao Clinic. Say Say had a fever and her breaths were very short and fast. Shortly after arriving at the clinic, Say Say stopped breathing and the medical staff had to use CPR. She was diagnosed with pneumonia and beri beri, a form of malnutrition that can be fatal in infants. After treatment, Say Say’s breathing improved, she no longer needed an oxygen tank and she was able to go home with her mother after a few days.
Her mother told us that she prefers to come to Mae Tao Clinic because she has been very satisfied with the services here. She could not afford Say Say’s treatment if she had been admitted to a government or private hospital in Burma with such a serious condition. She wishes to thank Mae Tao Clinic for curing her daughter.
Tin Win’s story
Tin Win is 16 years old and was brought to MTC with a complicated case of severe malaria. He managed to contract the most severe strain of malaria called Plamodium Falciparum (PF), which often causes cerebral malaria and death.
Tin Win comes from Myawaddy Township, which is just across the border from Mae Sot. He left school at the age of 12 to help support his parents, who sadly no longer had the money to send him to school. He started working in construction and often had to travel to sites on the edge of the town where malaria is more prevalent.
His mother brought him to the Clinic after he was complaining of fever, vomiting and headaches. Over seven days, the Clinic treated him with malaria medicines and IV fluids, bringing him back to good health.
Asked why they did not go to Myawaddy Hospital nearer to their home, Tin Win’s mother explained that they did not have the money to pay for the services there. She also thinks that MTC medics are more skilled at treating illness. They would both like to thank MTC for their help.
Tin Mon’s story
Tin Mon is 29 years old and is a mother of four children. She is originally from Mon State, Burma, but moved to the outskirts of Myawaddy Township, just across the border from Thailand, three years ago. She and her husband of 12 years decided to move to Myawaddy as they were more likely to find better-paid work there to help support their family.
Tin Mon earns money by selling vegetables by the roadside, while her husband works in a factory. She was only able to complete Grade 1 at a school in Mon State before she was forced to start working in farms and plantations to support herself at the age of 12. Her children are slightly luckier; the eldest two are both attending schools and the third child will be enrolled in school this coming academic year, but Tin Mon doubts that they have enough money to send the fourth to school when the child is slightly older.
Tin Mon first came to Mae Tao Clinic to receive ante-natal care when she discovered she was three months pregnant. Five months into the pregnancy, she discoved unusual bleeding and realised she needed medical attention. She arrived at the clinic three days ago with her aunt. The staff at Mae Tao Clinic told Tin Mon that she had unfortunately suffered a miscarriage.
Tin Mon is very sad to have lost the baby. However, she says that having another child would have been an extra burden on the family and would have made it more difficult to provide for her other children. She did not want another child originally, but did not have regular access to family planning in Burma. During her stay at the clinic, she has been given advice on different family planning options and has decided to choose a contraceptive implant that will work for three years. After the three years have passed, she will review her options again.
Tin Mon wants to say a big thank you to the medics in the reproductive health department who helped take care of her. She also wants to thank Mae Tao Clinic for the quality, free services it offers; she is grateful to be able to access treatment and family planning without have to use the limited funds she has to support her family.
U Kyaw Htoo’s story
“For the past 10 years of my life, my sight gradually became worse in both eyes. Sadly, this was my fate that I had to suffer. It made me upset; I had problems when climbing stairs and was reluctant to meet people. Sometimes I couldn’t even recognise my own children. I had to ask them, ‘who are you?’ This often happened when someone walked past me while I was staying at home”.
“It prevented me from doing even my ordinary daily activities and also had created a burden for my daughter because she had to look after me”.
U Kyaw Htoo is 80 years old, living in a small village in Karen State, Burma. Even at this age, he has to work very hard to be able to feed his family instead of relaxing or enjoying his time during this advanced stage of life.
“My oldest daughter, Ei Ei, tried many ways to help me heal my eyes. She brought me to the hospital and the doctor told me that I needed an operation because it had developed into a cataract. The cost of the surgery was about 350,000 Kyat. This was a huge amount of money for cataract surgery and our family couldn’t pay this amount. As this was the case, I had to postpone having surgery”.
“Also sometimes we had heard of the free cataract surgery campaign in Pha An Township. Unfortunately, I always missed my chance. There were always too many people in the registration queue. Sometimes I even travelled to these free campaign locations in advance to register my name on the query list. Even then, after waiting for a week, the campaign would end and they wouldn’t have reached my name on the waiting list. It made me so disappointed to wait for nothing”.
“Last year, one of my nieces went to Thailand to seek a job in Mae Sot. She came back home and brought me good news about the free cataract surgery in Mae Tao Clinic”.
This good news from Thailand encouraged U Kyaw Htoo to have new hope. He had to find ways to travel to Thailand for the operation. He immediately asked his children for financial support and to accompany him on the long trip to Mae Tao Clinic in Thailand.
“My first trip was in September 2011. When I was seen by the doctor, he asked me if I wanted to have surgery on my eyes. I said of course. Another question that he asked me was which eye I wanted to do first. I felt doubt but happiness in my heart. I couldn’t give him an answer, so in the end the doctor had to decide for me”.
“The day after the surgery, the sound of crowds of patients surrounded me at Mae Tao Clinic. The doctor lifted my eye bandage. The bright light shined into my eye and at that moment I started to see the smiling face of the doctor. I looked around and saw people and my daughter beside me. I almost cried with happiness. That was the first time I had seen my daughter’s face in 10 years”.
In January 2012, U Kyaw Htoo travelled back to Mae Tao Clinic to have surgery in his other eye. This time, he came with his family and another blind friend who had heard about the cataract surgery through him.
“I can even see very clearly what you wrote in your note book, but I can’t read it” U Kyaw Htoo said when we asked how much he could see after the surgery. We tested him using a picture reading chart; he could read six of the nine lines.
“I would like to say numerous words to thank the doctor who gave me back my sight. May all of priests bless the doctor and his staff to have happiness and progress in their life”.
Daw Paw Moo, Aung Kyo Min and Phyu Phyu’s story
Mother, Paw Moo (aged 37), her husband Aung Kyo Min (aged 40) and their three year old daughter, Phyu Phyu Nyein, came from Hlaing Bwe in Karen State to seek treatment for both Phyu Phyu and Aung Kyo Min.
Phyu Phyu has been ill since she was a baby. It is suspected that she suffered from meningitis and subsequently had to spend 10 days in a clinic in Burma. When she arrived at the clinic with her parents, she had very stiff limbs and couldn’t sit or stand properly. She would start shaking, couldn’t eat and would be vomiting day and night. Aung Kyo Min is also ill; he has been suffering from abdominal pain, body aches and gastric pain. While Phyu Phyu has been receiving attention from Mae Tao Clinic’s Child Outpatient Department (OPD), Aung Kyo Min is being taken care of in the Adult OPD.
A lack of money and expensive, but ineffective, medical treatment in Burma has forced this family to seek treatment across the border in Thailand. The family do not have a steady monthly income, as they depend on the small income from their rice harvests. And as Aung Kyo Min has been ill this year, he has been unable to farm. They also had to sell their land in order to pay for expensive treatment for both Phyu Phyu and Aung Kyo Min. A clinic in Burma charged the couple 105,500 kyat for antibiotics for Phyu Phyu. Other doctors who tried to treat Aung Kyo Min could not find out what was wrong with him.
Although the couple are lucky to have a big family to help support them, they still found that they were unable to continue Phyu Phyu’s expensive treatment in Burma. They were told by many people to go to Mae Tao Clinic in Thailand because the treatment is better and it is free. Paw Moo borrowed 30,000 kyat from her mother to be able to make the journey to Mae Tao Clinic by car. As they had never been to the clinic before, they asked many people along the way for directions.
Since arriving, Phyu Phyu has been given multi-vitamins and barbiturates to help with her sickness. Paw Moo has reported that Phyu Phyu is much better. She can now fully bend her arms and can walk with some help from her mother. As Karen people tend to treat illness by stopping intake of food, Paw Moo has been advised on the importance of nutrition for Phyu Phyu. Paw Moo has also been given some medicine to take back to Burma. Aung Kyo Min’s condition has also improved thanks to one week’s treatment.
The couple will go back home with Phyu Phyu next week, once Aung Kyo Min has attended a follow-up appointment in Adult OPD. They have been advised to re-visit the clinic in a few months time if possible so that they can receive follow-up treatment.
Paw Moo says that now she has visited Mae Tao Clinic, she knows that treatment is much better here and is amazed that they are also provided with food and a place to sleep. She realises that none of this is possible in Burma without plenty of money.
Paw Moo and Aung Kyo Min will be returning home to their three other daughters, aged 12, 10 and 8. Unfortunately they lost a child in between the third child and Phyu Phyu Nyein. Like Phyu Phyu, the child was very sick and eventually died. Hopefully, with Mae Tao Clinic’s help, they can prevent a similar tragedy.
Ma San Aye’s Story
Ma San Aye is fourteen years old. Her favourite activities at school are writing, playing games, and nap time. Ma San Aye is always tired, because she has HIV.
Her parents died when she was very young, and her grandmother raised her somewhere in the forest near Bangkok, but she was an abusive alcoholic. Ma San Aye is not sure where in Burma she is from, but she decided she needed to leave her grandmother and seek a better life in Burma. A relative brought her to Mae Sot, where she crossed the border into Myawaddy, and was adopted by a family that had no children of their own.
Soon after this though, she began to get sick, she was tired all the time and had lost her appetite. Five months ago, when she found lesions and ulcers on her skin, her new parents decided to bring her across the border to the Mae Tao Clinic. Our medics were able to identify some of the ulcers as being the result of poor hygiene knowledge; she underwent some tests to diagnose the others, and was told that she was HIV positive. She did not really understand what this meant, but her parents did. They were afraid that they might catch it off her, and so they abandoned her.
Now Ma San Aye lives with thirteen other women and girls that share her disease. The Mae Tao Clinic counselling staff visit her often and, while she does not yet fully understand the repercussions of what it means to be HIV positive, our staff are helping her learn more about her disease, and how to look after herself. The community based organisation that runs her home take care of her social issues, and we take care of her psychological wellbeing.
Unlike eight of the women and girls she lives with, Ma San Aye does not receive any treatment for her HIV, as there is no funding for it. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) closed their Anti Retroviral program in the Mae Sot area in 2010. Mae Tao Clinic has taken on the 46 HIV positive patients that MSF were treating, and have been providing them with medication while pursuing measures to assure they will continue to receive treatment in the future. New patients that meet the criteria for medication are referred to the Mae Sot Hospital for treatment, but unfortunately this does not guarantee that they will receive medication, as the Thai program is already full. Patients are accepted only as vacancies occur.
Ma San Aye is happy living at her new home, and enjoys spending time with the other girls and her school friends. At the moment she is feeling healthy and has an appetite. When she grows up she wants to be a sales woman.
Ma Cho’s Story
Ma Cho is 34, and is from Phyuu, Burma, although she is now living in Thailand. She has come to MTC to receive post-abortion care, resulting from an abortion administered by a Traditional Birth Attendant (TBA). The TBA was not able to fully remove the foetus, and Ma Cho developed a severe infection. This was her sixth pregnancy, and her second abortion; she has three living children. Her first baby was born at home in Burma, but unfortunately he died two minutes after he was born due to complications resulting from a prolonged labour, he would be 14 years old now. Her second child, who is 11 years old, was also born at home in Burma, but her other two children, 8 and 2 years old respectively, were both born at MTC. When Ma Cho realised how sick she was, seven days after her failed abortion, she knew that MTC would be able to help her. The staff from the Reproductive Health department completed her abortion by manual vacuum aspiration, and her infection is now being treated by IV antibiotics. She is slowly recovering, and will hopefully be able to return home soon.
Verbal consent to use these stories for reporting and publicity were obtained. Names have been changed to protect the full identity of the patients.