Dr. Cynthia, as she’s known, opened the Mae Tao Clinic when she first arrived in Thailand as a refugee, in 1988. The Burma Army was cracking down on the democracy movement, and thousands fled its scorched-earth campaign. Dr. Cynthia and fourteen other doctors walked through the jungle for days before they joined others in safety, only to discover that their fellow refugees were injured with gunshot wounds and landmine injuries. Many more suffered from preventable illnesses.
Nearly thirty years later, the Mae Tao Clinic sees over 75,000 patients and safely delivers over 2,500 babies each year – but Dr. Cynthia’s impact is felt far beyond the clinic’s walls. The clinic acts as a teaching hospital, training health workers and birth attendants so that they can offer care not only to undocumented refugees, but also to villagers back in Burma.
Dr. Cynthia has been internationally recognized for her leadership – but so much work still lies ahead.
Dr. Cynthia and her colleagues are working towards the long-term goal of integrating their grassroots community health systems into a national healthcare system for all. Mae Tao Clinic’s services are life-saving, but they can’t reach everyone. Dr. Cynthia knows that only by having a robust nation-wide healthcare system will all of Burma’s people be able to lead healthy lives.
Burma continues to take small steps towards real democracy. While Aung San Suu Kyi now leads decision-making processes in government, Burma’s military still holds much of the power. Armed conflict, racial and religious persecution, and sexual violence by the military remain prevalent. But despite the complex context and backsliding of progress, Dr. Cynthia is determinedly pressing forward.