Dr. Cynthia Maung knows first-hand the health challenges facing refugees and the internally displaced.
Forced to flee her native Burma during the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, she became a refugee herself, making her way to Mae Sot, a border town near several large refugee camps in Thailand. Seeing the dire health needs of the displaced there, Dr. Cynthia -- as she is known -- put her medical training to use and began providing basic health care, with minimal resources, to her fellow refugees. She soon established the Mae Tao Clinic with a tiny volunteer staff to serve the needs of the large refugee and displaced community fleeing persecution in Burma.
The clinic's reach and services have grown enormously since its founding. In just the latest indication of its success, Dr. Cynthia was recently awarded the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award, considered the Nobel Peace Prize of Asia. From just a few volunteers giving outpatient care to about 1,700 patients in 1989, the clinic has grown to become a large multipurpose health center providing inpatient and outpatient care, as well as social services, to a population of about 200,000 Burmese. Her patients include illegal migrant workers in Thailand, refugees and the displaced still living in Burma. Ongoing human rights abuses and oppression of ethnic minorities within Burma has created a population of almost 300,000 refugees in Thailand alone, in addition to hundreds of thousands of internally displaced within Burma.
Today, some 80 volunteer health workers provide a comprehensive array of inpatient and outpatient services including reproductive health care, pediatrics, surgery, laboratory services, eye care, prosthetics, transfusions, an emergency medical and obstetric referral system, training programs and a 60-bed inpatient facility. Clinic staff are also committed to advocacy on behalf of the ethnic Burmese, especially women and children.
Continual instability and persecution makes it difficult for many of the displaced to reach her clinic, so Dr. Cynthia and her staff established several jungle clinics in remote areas with large displaced populations. They also created backpack health worker teams to reach even more isolated communities.
The Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children has been providing support and technical assistance to the Mae Tao clinic's reproductive health programs since 1998. The clinic recently launched a Women's Commission-supported adolescent reproductive health training program to address the needs of this often neglected and vulnerable population.
Not one to rest on her laurels, Dr. Cynthia, who was also awarded the Jonathan Mann Award for Global Health and Human Rights and Canada's John Humphrey Freedom Award, continues to work to improve the services of the clinic and its reach. She and her husband, who manages the clinic's laboratory, live with their two young children at the clinic and provide 24-hour on call support.
And that support will continue indefinitely; Dr. Cynthia says she'll be around as long as her community needs her.
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