Burma Children Medical Fund (BCMF) championing healthcare on Thai-Myanmar border

Mar 28, 2019

Kanchana Thornton featured in The Nation article_Border Life-line_by Jim Pollard_June 2017

Kanchana Thornton, The Nation, June 2017 [IMAGE: Jim Pollard]

Kanchana Thornton, a Thai-born Australian nurse, founded the Burma Children Medical Fund (BCMF) in 2006. BCMF works out of the busy Mae Tao Clinic (MTC) located in Mae Sot on the Thai-Myanmar border. Before BCMF was established, people who needed advanced health care in the region – often children of poor migrant workers and refugees from Myanmar – could only access treatment for their symptoms. Lack of access to life-saving surgery and tertiary care often resulted in patients becoming severely incapacitated or dying from their conditions. BCMF sought to address this problem through its Medical Treatment and Capacity Building project.

Supported by Union Aid Abroad – APHEDA and Australian Aid since 2010, this project provides the financial support and transport required for those needing advanced medical care. BCMF manages the complicated logistics for patients to travel to Chiang Mai Hospital, 480kms away and ensures they receive the specialised treatment they need. BCMF also run a patient house in Chiang Mai that patients and their families use as a place of refuge while undergoing treatment in Thailand.

 Contributing to positive healthcare outcomes in Myanmar

Recent political changes have resulted in very little change to healthcare outcomes for ordinary people in Myanmar. The government’s 2017-18 budget saw only 5.2% of overall budget spending directed to health, and very little of this was directed to the regional areas where BCMF operates. As a result, BCMF continues to provide support for those who arrive in Mae Sot seeking advanced medical care in Thailand, but has also expanded into providing primary healthcare services in Myanmar. BCMF now conducts eye screenings, and provides glasses to those with sight impairments. BCMF also identifies those in need of wheelchairs and provides them at no cost.  Outreach services and capacity building training are also conducted by BCMF to allied healthcare providers in the region.

 Recent results: Thai-Myanmar Border and Regional Myanmar

Over the past 12 months, the Medical Treatment and Capacity Building project continued to be a key focus for BCMF.  At the end of the 2017-2018 project cycle, BCMF had facilitated treatment for 397 patients (both adults and children). This included advanced tests such as CT scans and MRI’s as well as major surgeries to treat conditions like congenital heart disease, thalassemia and spina bifida.

The delivery of its capacity building program provided training for existing staff and locals in areas such as caseload management, eye screening and wheelchair fitting benefiting over 550 trainees. This is a sustainable achievement towards improving healthcare more broadly in areas that have been neglected for decades.

The last 12 months also saw BCMF continue to enhance regional healthcare provision in Myanmar.

  • 292 wheelchairs were distributed to those with physical disabilities;
  • Eye screening missions resulted in a total of 1752 people screened, of which 1402 received glasses and 251 being listed for surgery.

Looking forward: moving on and focusing on Myanmar

Heading into 2019, BCMF will continue the implementation of its Medical Treatment and Capacity Building project. This will be the final year of support from Union Aid Abroad – APHEDA and the Australian government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP), marking 9 years of continued partnership. 

BCMF is increasing cooperation with local healthcare providers inside Myanmar, building their capacity ensuring fewer people need to travel to Thailand for treatment. Meanwhile, primary healthcare service provision will continue to grow as a significant focus of BCMF’s workload. This will focus on community eye screening in collaboration with a network of local healthcare providers in Myanmar. Wheelchair provision will play a role, in particular, building customised wheelchairs for children that can be adjusted as a child grows and that are suited to the conditions of villages and towns in rural Myanmar.

Working to enhance the capacity of local healthcare providers will continue to be a major part of BCMF’s work into the future. Training and workshops in local communities, as well as an internship program all serve to build the capacity of healthcare in the region more broadly, and ensure that BCMF is not only addressing immediate healthcare needs, but playing a role in creating structural and lasting change.


Union Aid Abroad – APHEDA has supported BCMF’s ‘Medical Treatment and Capacity Building Program’ project which has also received support from the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP)

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