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Under The Spotlight By Jerry Nelson

Dr. Cynthia Maung and the Mae Sot Clinic

Dr. Cynthia Maung founded the Mae Sot Clinic in 1988 to treat and care for Burmese refugees.

By Jerry Nelson
The Mae Tao Clinic in Mae Sot Thailand is famous worldwide for its unwavering dedication to providing health and safety to the Burmese migrants along the Thai / Burma border. Dr Cynthia Maung founded the clinic and is the major force behind its development, progress and even survival. I had the honor of interviewing her recently. This is a slightly abridged version of the interview, presented in two installments. You may read the entire interview on my blog at jerrycnx.
JN: Thank you for taking time to talk with me this morning.
CM: Thank you.
JN: I read your bio on the website and wanted to ask you. Did you always want to be a doctor, when you were just a little girl?
CM: Actually my father was a health professional. I used to spend time with my father while he was in the community.
JN: So you’ve been around health care all of your life. I read that you came over to Thailand in 1988 during the student revolution. Did you know some of the people who are now famous?
CM: Sometimes I know about them, but not actually know them. Many work in different programs such as education, child protection, and political reform. We have concentrated on health care.
JN: On your website I read that the clinic sees between 300 and 500 patients per day.
CM: The numbers vary depending on the season and the availability of service. Currently the average is 300 per day, six days a week.
JN: I heard that the number of patient’s you see is decreased. Why is that?
CM: There is more access to malaria treatment along the border, on the Burma side. We continue to monitor prevalence of malaria, especially in the mobile community. Right now we are seeing fewer Malaria patients than we did this time last year.
JN: The people who come to the clinic, are most of them migrants or do most of them come from Burma and return?
CM: About 50% come from Burma, for every service. Many are undocumented workers from both sides of the border and they come from many different villages. When we offer eye surgery we see more from Burma. Malaria used to be 70 or 75%, now its 50 – 50. Whether they come from Burma or Thailand many of them are migrant laborers and do not have household registration.
JN: Last time we talked, you mentioned that your funding has been reduced because big donors are putting more money across the border. You are building a new facility. How is the building going? Are you getting funding?
CM: Yes the planning started 5 years ago. So generally to relocate the whole clinic, we still need more money. Currently almost 75% is secure. Our contract with Australia’s AUS Aid finished in 2013. Usually our contracts are for 2 years. This year we are looking for replacement donors. For 2014 – 2015 our funding is almost secure for running the clinic and for upgrading the facility.
JN: I belong to the new Rotary club in Chiang Mai. I asked the club what question I could ask you. The answer was “Find out what we can do to help”.
CM: I think for Rotary, since you are based in Chiang Mai and familiar with the border population. I heard they get involved a lot with education, healthcare, and child protection. I would prefer if your club would concentrate on the Child Development Center’s activities. Perhaps funding teachers and helping with funding shortfalls within the Committee for the Protection and Promotion of Child Rights (CPPCR). I would like the club to contact the Suwannimit foundation.
JN: Because we really want to be of service, especially with things that are sustainable. There is nothing more sustainable than education.
CM: Yes education is building the future. We have the program for early development and the 2nd program is basic education. We try to connect our education programs to the Thai education system and the Burma education system so the children have accreditation which they need for higher education and better job opportunities. And the 3rd program is occupational. So we give some students the opportunity to study vocational training at a community college.
JN: How are child protection services going?
CM: We have three main programs:
1. Registration of birth, registration of children born in Thailand. Even if they don’t have card, they have the civil registration they can travel with their parents and have access to health care and help them get their citizenship papers in Burma.
2. Boarding House / shelter for access to school. These are children in migrant communities who accompany parents or drop out of school in Burma. So we need to offer some kind of shelter and opportunity for education. This includes protection of them from dangers according to the child protection policy. And support the network of child rights within the community.
3. Abandoned Child program. These are often babies who have been abandoned at birth in Mae Tao Clinic or Mae Sot hospital. So these children need more support and protection for a long time.
JN: Now, are there more abandoned babies or less?
CM: About the same, recent ones are not in the Thai system yet. Some have completed 5th grade and need to continue higher education.
The second part of the interview will appear in the next issue of the Chiang Mai Mail.

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Dr. Cynthia Maung and the Mae Sot Clinic