Interview with Minister of Health Dr Myint Htwe
THE World Health Organization (WHO) held its annual Southeast Asia regional conference in Colombo, Sri Lanka, from September 5 to 9. On the sidelines of the conference, The Myanmar Times’ Aung Shin spoke with Dr Myint Htwe, Union Minister for Health and Sport. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.
What have you mainly discussed at the conference? The WHO holds these conferences annually to review what every country in the region has accomplished within the last year. Every country presents their health sector needs, and the regional health ministers discuss the WHO projects in their country and whether they are performing well or not. This year, our discussions have focused on noncommunicable diseases and also universal healthcare.
What are the main health issues in Myanmar? We are now starting in Myanmar to update our health information system. It is a very important step. In every country, conditions of disease outbreak and control depend on having precise statistics. Some countries make announcements about disease eradication and outbreak control with imprecise data. But every country needs to make sure their health information systems are strong. We call it “systematisation”. Without that, planning or projections can go wrong.
Is this your priority under the new government in Myanmar? Yes, we have been starting on that. We have a lot to do for the systematisation of the health sector. The working procedures of the health sector, in all the ministry’s offices, need to be standardised. We also must standarise codes of ethics for all personnel in the health sector, such ethics for doctors, ethics for nurses and ethics for medical science. We are working on these issues.
The private health sector is growing fast in Myanmar, with most people relying on private hospitals and clinics. How will the Ministry of Health regulate the private health sector? This is why we have the Myanmar Medical Council, which I chair. We have to cooperate with the private health sector and also monitor what they are doing to see whether their medical treatment is qualified or not, whether they are asking fair charges for treatment or not. We cannot let them operate without oversight. At the same time, we [the public health sector] have to monitor our health services too to ensure quality services.
Many people complain about the poor standards of medicine, with a lot of fake medicine distributed locally. How will the Ministry of Health control this private medicine market? This falls under the responsibilities of the Myanmar Medical Council. People can complain to the ministry or file a medical case. The council will examine whether the case is true or not, and whether it is a mistake or misunderstanding. The medical council must monitor the whole medical service sector … So far not many issues or case have been received, only a few.
You presented something about the health budget at this WHO regional conference. What was it? WHO has a lot of health projects in each country. They must review which projects are the more important. It shouldn’t happen that a large share of the budget goes to less important project. So the WHO has to review their budgeting system to ensure the most important projects get the most funding.
Another hot issue at this conference is the Zika virus. The WHO has confirmed Zika cases in Thailand, Singapore and Indonesia. What has Myanmar done to prepare for that disease? We have standard procedure guidelines for all disease outbreaks. We have alerted all responsible departments and personnel. We are not careless about Zika or any disease outbreak. It is not an easy job if we have some infections of that disease.
There are some countries announcing they have officially eradicated some diseases, meeting the UN’s Millennium Development Goals. We have never heard of this happening in Myanmar. What MDGs has Myanmar achieved? You should ask other the countries if these announcements are technically true or for a certification of their having met MDGs or eradicating particular diseases. Actually, no one has achieved the MDGs. It is impossible so far. The systematisation of the health sector is still poor.
Dr Myint Htwe, minister for health, presides over a ceremony in Nay Pyi Taw on August 10.