Dr Cynthia Maung treats a patient

IN FEBRUARY 1989, five months after fleeing a brutal military crackdown in Burma, Dr. Cynthia Maung and a small group of students opened a makeshift medical clinic in a rickety wooden house on the dusty outskirts of Mae Sot, Thailand. In the beginning, the clinic had virtually no supplies, no money, and (except for Dr. Cynthia) no staff formally trained in medicine. Other factors compounded their problems; they were in Thailand illegally, and didn’t speak the language.

All of the clinic’s medical instruments fit into the woven bag that Dr. Cynthia had slung over her shoulder during the ten-night trek to escape through the jungle of Burma’s eastern border region. There was a stethoscope, a pair of scissors, two pairs of forceps, a thermometer, a blood pressure cuff, one medical textbook, and a few packets of basic medications. With these limited tools and a commitment to care for all who fled war and oppression in Burma, the Mae Tao Clinic was born.

The clinic’s young founders anticipated returning to Burma within months of their arrival on the border, idealistically hoping international pressure would force the junta into peace negotiations with pro-democracy groups and ethnic minorities. “We didn’t expect to be here 20 years,” Dr. Cynthia says during the interview for the Mae Tao clinic 20th anniversary book. While the fledgling group was establishing what was to become the Mae Tao clinic in Mae Sot, inside Burma the civil conflict worsened and the military dictatorship tightened its grip over the country. So instead of returning to reform their homeland, the group continued to work at the humble clinic with limited available resources, using medicine, education, and outreach to relieve human suffering and heal broken communities.

Dr Cynthia Maung treats a patient

ALMOST THREE DECADES LATER, the Mae Tao Clinic (MTC) has grown into a comprehensive community health centre and a hub for regional health training with more than 3,000 graduates serving clinics, schools, villages, factories, camps and peri-urban slums along both sides of the Thai-Burma border. In some remote areas inside Burma, the clinic’s former students have become the only sources of medical care.

Dr Cynthia Maung treats a patient

The clinic now shoulders an annual caseload of over 100,000 patients; treats 300 to 420 patients daily; over 2,000 babies are delivered; provides essential healthcare services to remote and isolated areas in eastern Burma through Health System Strengthening (HSS) project in collaboration with 8 ethnic health organisations; provides health trainings; and feeds over 2,000 school children, patients, staff and their families every day. Currently, just around half of the clinic’s patients are from the local Burmese migrant community, with the rest traveling from inside Burma to seek healthcare. The clinic’s health services have to cope with both acute and chronic medical problems. Staff members treat almost everything from minor maladies to non-/communicable diseases to chronic diseases.

The front view of new Mae Tao clinic

(Last Update: 15 May 2018)