Persevering for the right to health

news : Insight & Analysis


Credit: Photo credit: Mae Tao Clinic

As featured in our 2020 Annual Report Sustaining Social Justice

The pandemic poses enormous challenges for healthcare providers globally. Mae Tao Clinic approached COVID-19 with a wealth of experience in adapting to complex crises.

Mae Tao Clinic opened in 1989 just across from Burma, in the safety of Thailand. Several young people established the Clinic after fleeing a military crackdown in Burma. On their journey to the border, they witnessed people suffering without healthcare. Inter Pares began funding Mae Tao Clinic just a few years after it opened - it was our first counterpart in what is now an extensive Burma program.

The Clinic started small, meeting urgent needs, and has since grown into a sophisticated training hospital. The patients are from Burma - some live at Thai factories where they work, some come from refugee camps in Thailand, and more than half travel across the Thai-Burma border to seek care. 

In March, in response to COVID-19, Clinic staff procured protective equipment, installed additional hand washing stations, adapted facilities, and cancelled non-emergency procedures. But the lockdown had a huge impact on people’s access to healthcare:  factory workers were unable to leave their compounds,  refugees were confined to camps and the Thai-Burma border closed. Police presence also increased, as did fears of deportation for the Thai-based community, including Clinic staff. As a result,  the Clinic saw a 37% reduction in consultations.

To respond to the movement restrictions on patients, Mae Tao Clinic worked to bring healthcare to their community. Together with partner providers, Clinic staff trained health workers on both sides of the border and for the first time offered online courses to those with reliable internet. They created and distributed public health information in local languages, and established sanitation stations and quarantine systems. 

As a facility built by resilient refugees, Mae Tao Clinic is founded upon principles of equity and peace, self-care and self-governance, and fundamentally, on the right to health. Clinic staff have been tested by the impacts of landmines and grenades, floods and fires, funding cuts and now a pandemic, and yet they persevere. Inter Pares is committed to continue to accompany them.

2020 highlighted that peace, justice, development and humanitarian issues have to be carried out not separately but simultaneously, by political leaders, civil society organizations and international aid agencies. - Dr. Cynthia Maung, MTC Director

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