The Hospital Built On Friendship

A local boy in front of Kayin Chaung Station Hospital


Dubbed the “Singapore Hospital”, Myanmar’s Kayin Chaung Station Hospital – a symbol of friendship between the two countries – has brought critical health care to isolated villages in the Ayeyarwady Delta. Find out how the local community benefited from the partnership.
BY PAUL VRIEZE

PHOTOS PAUL VRIEZE

 

S

itting in a busy hall at Kayin Chaung Station Hospital in January this year, village elder U Pe recalled the devastating events of May 2, 2008, when Cyclone Nargis hit his village in the Ayeyarwady Delta in lower Myanmar.

Then, Kayin Chaung was a bustling village of hundreds of homes located between the endless waterways and rice fields of the Delta. After the cyclone, it was lucky to have avoided deadly casualties. But many homes were blown down, wells became contaminated by floods and harvests were destroyed. Work on the partially constructed local hospital came to a halt.


Dr Jayant Venkatramani Iyer from Singapore National Eye Centre checks the sight of a local patient


“The economic situation deteriorated after Nargis,” said U Pe. “A lot of poor people from the surrounding area came to this village to seek food and health care.”

Myanmar’s worst-ever natural disaster hit the Delta – the country’s rice bowl and a densely populated, low-lying area – hard. Some 138,000 people were killed when a storm surge flooded up to 40km inland; many more were displaced and cast into poverty.
 

a local boy takes an eye test.


EXTENDING A HAND OF FRIENDSHIP

A shocked international community mounted a humanitarian response for the then-isolated country. Singapore responded by sending a 24-member medical team with US$200,000 (S$270,000) in emergency relief supplies to the disaster zone in the Ayeyarwady Delta.

This team later recommended that the Singapore Government help complete the hospital in Kayin Chaung, which is located on an island two hours south of Yangon by boat and car. The Myanmar government gave its approval.

government gave its approval. In 2009, the 16-bed Kayin Chaung Station Hospital was officially opened by then Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong on the island, which is home to some 35,000 people.

Today, it stands as a symbol of the friendship between Singapore and Myanmar, and has been dubbed the “Singapore Hospital” by locals due to the amount of support it receives from the Republic. Singaporean organisations remain involved with the local community and continue to support the expansion of hospital facilities.

SingHealth, Singapore’s largest public healthcare group, has provided help since 2011. Aside from donating an ECG machine, an ultrasound machine and other medical supplies, it also welcomed local hospital staff to Singapore General Hospital and KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH) for training, where they observed and learnt about managing hospital operations, and how to care for patients.

The Singapore Association of Myanmar (SAM) has also donated medicine and furniture to the hospital, and recently helped to repair its roof. SAM Vice-President for Charity Michael Cole said: “Kayin Chaung Station Hospital was built by Singapore for the Myanmar people. As a Singapore association, it was only natural that SAM step up and support the hospital and all the good it does for the surrounding villages.”
 

ABOUT KAYIN CHAUNG STATION HOSPITAL

Located in Twante Township of the Yangon region.

Opened in June 2009 by then Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong.

Contains two eight-bed wards – one for men and one for women – two operating theatres, a mortuary, as well as offices and rooms for outpatient treatment, visiting specialists, and to hold other facilities.

Headed by one resident doctor and a team of nurses.

Served by a jetty in front of the hospital so patients arriving by boat can be transferred directly to the hospital.

Treats an average of 1,000 outpatients every month.

Serves a village of 4,000, as well as a rural population of about 100,000 who travel by boat to the hospital.


Professor Tay Boon Keng, an orthopaedic surgeon from Singapore General Hospital, examines a local patient.


UPLIFTING LIVES

The hospital has transformed the lives of local villagers who would otherwise have to travel to the city of Yangon to seek medical attention.

“This hospital is very important because there are many people in this rural area. A lot of them are afraid to go to Yangon for treatment because it’s a big city,” said Dr Moe Moe Kyaw, who has headed the hospital since its opening.

SingHealth sends a medical team to Kayin Chaung Station Hospital at least once a year to provide relief for critical medical needs.

On Jan 17, about 40 SingHealth doctors, nurses, allied health professionals and administrators, led by Mr Robert Chua, Singapore’s Ambassador to Myanmar, visited the hospital for a day to offer free eye care, as well as orthopaedic, gynaecological and cardiac consultations to 588 local patients. SingHealth also donated medical supplies such as bandages, vitamin pills, antibiotics and syringes.

The hospital hummed with activity as villagers, young and old, patiently waited in the breezy halls of the well-kept, ochre-coloured building. Some were there to get their eyes tested, others to have an ECG test or to receive orthopaedic advice. After her ECG, an elderly woman burst into a toothless smile as Adjunct Associate Professor Tan Teng Hong, Head and Senior Consultant of Cardiology Service at KKH, told her through a translator: “You have the heart of a 30-year-old!”

Associate Professor Chua Yeow Leng, Group Director of SingHealth’s International Collaboration Office, said SingHealth is committed to support Kayin Chaung beyond medical assistance, in areas such as infrastructure development.

He added that the day trip to the Delta was also inspirational for the visiting team. “A lot of health-care staff feel like they see the essential function of medicine when they come here. People rediscover their real passion for medicine,” he said.


CARING FOR THE COMMUNITY

While such visits and continued support from Singapore are important, at the end of the day, it is the skill and dedication of the local hospital staff that ensures that the hospital functions smoothly every day to meet the medical needs of the community.

The hospital performs a number of basic but important medical tasks for about 1,000 patients per month. For mothers who live in the vicinity, the hospital has also been a blessing.

Since 2009, the hospital staff has safely delivered more than 200 babies, including eight pairs of twins. Highlighting the importance of the up-to-date equipment at the hospital, Dr Kyaw said: “With the ultrasound, I can see if the baby’s position is normal or not normal, decide on the mode of delivery and whether to refer (an expectant mother) to Yangon.”

Ambassador Chua, who has been involved in coordinating Singapore’s support for Kayin Chaung Station Hospital since 2009, was also hosted to a lunch by village head U Pe, in appreciation of his efforts. U Pe said: “The ambassador helped us a lot when we talked to authorities to establish this hospital.” Hearing this, the ambassador smiled and replied: “We all worked together to achieve this.”



WHAT’S IN A NAME?

One of the fi rst mothers to benefi t from the facilities at Kayin Chaung Station Hospital was Daw Thet Thet Aye (above, right), 47. She was expecting her fourth child in 2009 when a complication was detected in her pregnancy.

A German friend named Oliver advised her to visit the hospital for an examination. Dr Moe Moe Kyaw, the lead doctor at the hospital, put her under observation in the hospital for a month until her son was born safely. “The doctor and the nurses took care of me very well. I didnʼt have any problems,” she said.

Her son Phyo Thet Paing (left), now 6, was born in December 2009. To show her gratitude, she nicknamed him “Robert Oliver Kyaw”, after Mr Robert Chua, Singaporeʼs Ambassador to Myanmar, her German friend, and Dr Kyaw who delivered the boy.

Today, both mother and child are doing well and they continue to visit the hospital for their medical needs. This story demonstrates how the meeting of likeminded individuals can inspire and spark collaborations for positive change.

It is also a celebration of crosscultural friendships, which have brought together people of different countries and culture, for a greater good.

 


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