via Bangkok Pundit by Bangkok Pundit on 6/18/08
Simon Montlake in CSM:
Having led Thailand's first medical mission last month to cyclone-ravaged Burma (Myanmar), Pichit Siriwan, a doctor, was on standby for another two-week tour. But last week he got word that Burmese authorities no longer needed the services of his 30-person team.
"Even before the cyclone, there were chronic shortages.... We're trying to fill the gap for medical care," says Osamu Kunii, head of health and nutrition in Burma for Unicef, which is supplying nutrition supplements, vaccines, water purification kits, and other health supplies in the delta.
"Most of the affected people are now returning to the villages. It's quite difficult for us to get access" to these far-flung areas, Mr. Osamu adds.
Burmese authorities have told aid agencies that doctors and nurses from other parts of the country are being sent to the delta, though it's unclear whether these are mobile teams or short-term replacements. Nor is there any national plan yet for rebuilding wrecked clinics and hospitals.
Given these acute shortages, the decision to send away Asian doctors seems perverse, even if their original deployment was in an emergency capacity, says a Western diplomat in Bangkok.
But it fits the junta's pattern of asserting that the crisis is over and that villagers must go back to rebuild their houses and farms, whatever the state of the health system.
Pichit, the doctor, says that his team was grateful for the opportunity to work in Burma, where they treated 3,700 patients during their two-week stay. "I think many of the doctors were willing to help more, especially with the children. But it's their country," he says.