Our Work: Mae Tao Clinic

APHEDA’s Thai-Burma Border Project Officer, Katie Camarena, writes about the opening of the new Mae Tao Clinic and her time based at the clinic working for Burma Children Medical Fund (BCMF).

My memories from the old Mae Tao Clinic

For two years, my commute to work ended as I made my way down a dusty driveway, heaving with activity, and walked into Dr Cynthia’s Mae Tao Clinic. A vital lifeline for sick, pregnant and injured migrant workers, refugees and displaced people from Burma, the rabbit-warren of buildings was more than a health clinic; it was a village. It had sprung up organically from a small, one-roomed hut with a simple rice cooker which was used to sterilise medical instruments into a sprawling network of structures.

The Mae Tao Clinic I remember was a busy maze of concrete buildings connected by narrow walkways which leaked like a shower in rainy season. Deep, concrete drains wove their way around the outside of the buildings and took on a very unromantic canal-like form during rainy season. Each building had a designated purpose and was built out of need in whatever space could be found. The odd-shaped spaces in between were used to grow plants and flowers, each one lovingly nurtured and watered by the staff.

Like any modern facility, the Mae Tao Clinic has a trauma department, a maternity ward and reproductive health services, a blood bank and laboratory, a food and nutrition program, HIV prevention and counselling services, inpatient departments catering to adults and children, bustling out-patient clinics capable of churning through a high-volume of patients each day, as well as training facilities for providing essential and ongoing medical training for staff. In addition, the Clinic also has a busy prosthetics department with a majority of patients treated suffering from injuries from incidents involving land mines.

The beginning – the evolution of Dr Cynthia’s clinic

The clinic was founded by Dr Cynthia Maung in 1989 in the wake of the 1988 pro-democracy uprising in Burma. It was meant to be temporary but more than two decades later, the clinic continues to serve a population still traumatised by one of the world’s longest running civil wars. Union Aid Abroad – APHEDA has been supporting the work of Dr Cynthia’s Mae Tao Clinic since 1996. In 2013 Dr Cynthia received the Sydney Peace Prize for her “…dedication to multi-ethnic democracy, human rights and the dignity of the poor and dispossessed, and for establishing health services for victims of conflict.”

A new site and a new clinic

28 years after Dr Cynthia founded the original clinic, a new purpose-built Mae Tao Clinic is now complete and will continue to offer healthcare services to migrants and displaced people from Burma. The opening ceremony took place on Saturday 28 May 2016 (click here for news coverage of the opening) and was attended by around 3,000 people including representatives from the Thai government and international non-governmental organisations (INGOs), civil society organisations, members of the 88 Generation Students who were actively involved in the pro-democracy protests and a new generation of students from migrant schools in and around Mae Sot.

Union Aid Abroad–APHEDA would like to congratulate the Mae Tao Clinic on the opening of the new clinic and applauds its ongoing role in providing accessible quality health care to migrants and displaced people from Burma. Even with a newly elected democratic government, it’s anticipated that Burma’s broken healthcare system will take a long time to fix. In the meantime, the Mae Tao Clinic is one of a number of organisations who have come together to implement a Health System Strengthening Strategic Plan for Eastern Burma with a view to contribute to improving access to healthcare to affect real change in Burma. Though there remain many major limitations and constraints that will impede fast progress in fixing health infrastructure in Burma, we are encouraged by the work of organisations like Mae Tao Clinic and their dedication to the communities they support.

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Dr Cynthia at the Mae Tao Clinic

Image above: Dr Cynthia at the Mae Tao Clinic

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