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She has been described as Burma’s Mother Teresa, so it was no surprise Crawford students were keen to meet Dr Cynthia Maung.
The founder of the Mae Tao Clinic on the Thailand-Burma border was in Australia to receive the 2013 Sydney Peace Prize. During high-level meetings in Canberra on 13 November following the conferral of the honour, Dr Maung made time to meet with ANU academics and students at the Ivy Café.
Dr Maung was joined by Naw K’nyaw Paw, the Secretary of the Karen Women’s Organization and Jessica Nhkum, the Joint General Secretary of the Kachin Women’s Association Thailand.
The Mae Tao Clinic in Mae Sot, Thailand, provides free healthcare to Burmese refugees and internally displaced people who make the perilous journey across the porous border into Thailand each year. The clinic directly assists more than 100,000 people annually.
In addition to providing immediate care for patients, the clinic also trains staff in basic community health care, more advanced care and specialist care such as midwifery. Once trained, these staff travel back into Burma and provide healthcare to the rural communities which are some of the most poorly-serviced areas for healthcare in the region.
Questions from students varied from the current situation within Burma and the fragile peace process to questions about how the clinic is addressing the infant and maternal mortality rates through offering safe delivery practices. Dr Maung provided students with background on the reasons people seek healthcare at the clinic, which included basic issues of accessibility, both financial and geographic.
The clinic initially formed as an emergency response to assist people fleeing Burma following the crackdown on students in 1988. Dr Maung told the meeting she thought she would be in Thailand for a few months; it has now been 25 years.
Some of the more severe cases treated at the clinic include people suffering from severe malnutrition, pneumonia and diarrhoeal diseases. Each day between 300 and 400 patients are treated at the clinic. The centralisation of healthcare services in Rangoon, combined with internal displacement disrupting registration allowing access to healthcare and education means many patients from rural Burma travel for days to reach Dr Maung’s clinic.
The Australian Partner Organisation for Mae Tao Clinic, Union Aid Abroad – APHEDA (http://www.apheda.org.au/) facilitated the meeting at ANU.