Myanmar Health Promotion Team receives Dr LEE Jong-wook Memorial Prize for Public Health

Dr Than Lwin Tun and his team from Health Promotion Unit of Department of Public Health, Myanmar received the Dr LEE Jong-wook Memorial Prize for Public Health, today at WHO Headquarters, Geneva, during the 72nd session of World Health Assembly. The Prize was awarded in recognition of the Community Health Clinics and its contribution to public health in the hard-to-reach areas. The concept of the Community Health Clinic is to strengthen community health services, through the efficient use of resources and increased promotion of health literacy. The Community Health Clinic model places the community at the center of care, while recognizing the contribution of community health volunteers, civil society organizations and local and international nongovernmental organizations. Details are as below:

Local clinics boost health literacy in Myanmar

Community health clinics trigger far-reaching improvements in serving vulnerable, hard-to-reach populations in Myanmar

A community consultation session about risk factors, screening for early detection and treatment of noncommunicable diseases by using the standardized health messages.
Photo credit: Dr Than Lwin Tun

In 2016, a measles outbreak spread quickly in Nagaland, north-western Myanmar because local health workers were initially unable to identify the disease.

The outbreak was soon contained, but it highlighted the need to improve health literacy in hard-to-reach parts of the country that suffer from poor infrastructure and insufficient access to healthcare.

Further research confirmed the need to educate and empower communities.

“When we looked at the figures from a 2016-2017 national survey, revealing that 74% of total deaths in our country were caused by non-communicable diseases, we realized that health education had to be taken really, really seriously”, says Dr. Than Lwin Tun, Director of the Health Promotion Unit at the Ministry of Health and Sports.

There are about 135 ethnic groups, speaking different languages and dialects, in Myanmar - which means health awareness campaigns also have to be localized.

The government has since appointed a health literacy promotion ambassador for Nagaland - a popular model and movie star from the region.

Another part of the country is now benefiting from an innovative model of health clinics aimed at serving marginalised and hard-to-reach communities.

The Ministry of Health is piloting the programme in the Pin-Oo Rural Health Center in Ngaphe Township, Magwe region, which hosts some of Myanmar’s most inaccessible areas due to poor transport infrastructure.

The clinics provide basic services to vulnerable populations such as screening, treatment, essential medicines and referrals for chronic conditions.

Dr Than Lwin Tun says the key to their success is their ability to bring together village health committees, local NGOs and voluntary health workers, and to tap into a network of existing rural and urban health centres.

“They are staffed by local health professionals who live and deliver services within their communities,” Dr Than Lwin Tun explains. “They provide health services either at rural health centres or by going to hard-to-reach populations with mobile clinics.”

National, regional and local authorities worked together to bring the new initiative from concept to implementation. The construction of a community centre and rural health centre is also underway, and university scholarships are available to outstanding students.

The mobile health clinics model is being recognised at the 72nd World Health Assembly for its contribution to improving access to health. It will receive the 2019 Dr Lee Jong-wook Memorial Prize for Public Health.

“The Award is precious for us,” says Dr. Than Lwin Tun, “because it recognizes our work to move toward universal health coverage across Myanmar. It energizes and inspires our local health staff to work in new ways.”

“As long as health workers listen to the voices of the people in the communities they serve, they will never fail.”