Myanmar looks abroad for investment in healthcare

YANGON (Reuters) – Yangon General Hospital was once the jewel in the crown of one of Southeast Asia’s best healthcare systems.

These days, hundreds of patients are forced to sleep in corridors of the hulking, colonial-era red-brick building, dogs doze on the floor of the emergency ward and garbage is piled in corners.

It is a scene that Myanmar’s reformist government hopes to change as it ratchets up spending on the sector and seeks foreign investment to revive one of Asia’s sickest healthcare systems.

Several leading regional healthcare companies are already operating in Myanmar and others plan to enter soon, seeing huge potential in the country’s underserved population of about 60 million people.

Attracting foreign investment is part of an overhaul of the healthcare system by the quasi-civilian government that took over from the army in 2011. The administration of President Thein Sein has cut military spending and raised healthcare funding to 3 percent of government spending this fiscal year to March 31, from 1 percent the previous year.

As with many sectors, however, private firms say they are being held back by uncertainty over rules for foreign investors.

The health ministry is drawing up regulations for foreign hospital operators to open facilities in Myanmar independently or through joint ventures, said a senior ministry official, who requested anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to media.


Bangkok Dusit Medical Services Pcl, Thailand’s largest private hospital group, sees Myanmar as the company’s “first priority for foreign investment”, said Chief Operating Officer Chatree Duangnet.

But Duangnet added that the company was waiting for the government to make the investment laws clearer.

Amiruddin Abdul Satar, president of Kuala Lumpur-listed hospitals operator KPJ Healthcare Bhd, told Reuters his company was involved in the management of one hospital already and the government had invited them to expand. The company declined to give further details or reveal the amount of its planned investment.

Singapore healthcare provider AsiaMedic Ltd said in a June statement it had signed an initial joint venture agreement with Five Oceans Service Co Ltd, a Myanmar company, to invest at least $3 million to set up diagnostic scanners in two hospitals in the northern city of Mandalay.

Patients in Myanmar currently have to travel to cities such as Bangkok and Singapore for scans.

A spokesperson for AsiaMedic told Reuters on November 5 that the companies had yet to sign a definitive agreement.

The role private companies will play in the healthcare system remains to be determined, said Hnin Hnin Pyne, a senior human development specialist with the World Bank who is working with the government on healthcare reform.

“How is this going to benefit the poor? For me that is a massive question,” she said, adding that the government has set a goal to provide health coverage to all citizens by 2030.

At a November 25 meeting in the capital, Naypyitaw, Health Minister Pe Thet Khin said cooperation between the government and private sector would be key in achieving universal coverage, the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported.

Hnin Hnin Pyne said the government was still deciding whether healthcare will be free or subsidized.

Source: Chicago Tribune

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