Myanmar’s healthcare sector still has some way to go when compared with many of its South East Asian neighbors. But with the commitment shown by the government to boost spending in this area and the continued support of private organizations, transformation is swiftly taking shape.
In April this year, together with my colleagues from DKSH, I had the opportunity to once again meet with senior officials from the Ministry of Health and Sports led by Permanent Secretary of Ministry of Health and Sports Prof. Dr. Thet Khaing Win. This was a follow-up meeting after having met with the Minister of Health Dr. Myint Htwe last year.
Here is an update on some of the key issues we spoke about and a quick glance at the opportunities and challenges faced by the healthcare industry in Myanmar today.
A nation undergoing rapid development
Myanmar is the second largest country in South East Asia and has a population of approximately 56 million. However, according to the United Nations, 70% of the population still lives in rural areas and an estimated 26% of the population live below the poverty line.
These rural areas, mainly populated by Myanmar’s minority ethnic groups, are particularly poor and have inadequate infrastructure. Only 26% of the population have access to electricity. But that is starting to change with the government allocating more funds and resources into transforming the country’s rural communities. According to the World Bank, health spending quadrupled within ten years: USD 1.08 billion in 2014 as compared with USD 236.98 million in 2005.
The Ministry of Health and Sports has put in place a National Health Project (2017-2022) with the main objective to provide affordable healthcare services to every resident in the country by 2021. There are currently 1,778 rural health centers across the country and the government is working with NGOs and private corporations to improve and expand these facilities so that its people have better access to healthcare services.
Enabling access to high-quality healthcare
DKSH is among the organizations that have continued to be actively involved in improving the quality of healthcare and its accessibility in Myanmar. Since establishing its presence in the country 21 years ago, the company has worked closely with the government on many pharmaceutical and healthcare-related issues including enabling patients access to high quality international medicines, medical devices and diagnostics equipment.
With offices in Yangon, Mandalay, Myitkyinar, Taungyi and Mawlamyaing, DKSH has built a strong reputation for its strict compliance with regulatory requirements and in continuing to help raise the industry’s ethical standards in the country.
During our recent meeting, aside from being briefed about the latest updates on DKSH’s activities in Myanmar, the government officials also shared their views on the existing challenges faced by the ministry including on the quality of healthcare drugs, patient accessibility and dealing with parallel import and counterfeit products.
Recently, DKSH and Boehringer Ingelheim, one of the world’s top 20 pharmaceutical companies, signed an agreement to provide healthcare patients in Myanmar with better treatment options for vascular disease, arterial hypertension, cancer and diabetes.
Transforming rural communities
DKSH is among the partners of the South East Asian Rural Growth Coalition established to raise the living standards of the rural communities across the region including in Myanmar, Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand and Cambodia. The coalition, which also includes other multinational companies, aims to transform the lives of 100 million rural people across the region by 2025.
A flagship program introduced by the coalition is the MORE Village program with Myanmar chosen as the first location. The project is aimed at introducing a digital platform to rural people with content, tools and applications in areas such as health, farming, finance, education and women empowerment. Starting with 20 villages in Shan, Ayerwaddy and Magway, the objective is to reach 25,000 villages in Myanmar by 2022.
Another positive step forward for the country is the recent establishment of the International Pharmaceutical Manufacturers’ Association of Myanmar (IPMAM), of which DKSH is proud to be a founding member. The objectives of the association include to expand and support patients’ access to sustainable, safe, cost-effective and innovative medicines; assist the healthcare sector in developing high standards of patient-centric care; and cooperate with experts, governmental organization, NGOs and other members in line with the ethics and norms of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers’ Association.
With the government continuing to focus on improving the healthcare sector coupled with the growing demand for reliable and quality medical services, I believe that there is long-term growth potential for Myanmar. Yet, prevailing challenges such as education, control and supply chain management remain daunting, and will require strong public and private partnerships along with the support from IPMAM for Myanmar to reach its full potential.
Bertrand Sauvageon is DKSH Business Unit Healthcare’s Regional Vice President overseeing Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.