Minister of Health’s message hits home in Myanmar
I was stationed at the front door of Naypyitaw’s Mingalar Thiri Hotel, awaiting his arrival. Day one of Myanmar’s Family Planning Best Practices Conference, and we were expecting H.E. Minister of Health Dr. Pe Thet Khin any minute.
Flanked by fellow conference organizers and high-level officials in a line outside the sliding front doors, I was prepared to accept the esteemed guest. When Minister Pe Thet Khin arrived, we greeted him, ushered him into the hotel lobby, and accompanied him on the walk to the conference room for his speech.
Taking my seat at the front of the room, I looked back at the nearly 200 government officials, health experts, and uniformed nurses and midwives – caps pinned neatly in place on their heads – all ready to hear the words of the Minister.
He opened with a few thank yous – thanks to his colleagues at the Ministry of Health, to representatives from states/regions and townships, and to the various international donor organizations present.
Myanmar, he continued, has affirmed its commitment to economic growth and development, especially concerning social and human development. One way to see that through, he shared, is to introduce and improve access to family planning.
He said it’s not only important for improving the health and well-being of women and their families, but also for the development of the country.
“Family planning,” he said, “will improve both physical and economic health of families by reducing diseases and deaths, and in turn, accelerate the development of villages, townships and the nation.”
It helps the country’s most vulnerable populations from slipping through the cracks, he told the audience.
At the end of his speech, the Minister stressed the idea of participation, urging attendees to really provide constructive ideas and thoughts over the three-day conference.
“It is a valuable opportunity for all of us to hear the experience of others and develop solutions together,” he said.
And with that, the conference began.
Dr. Theingi Myint from Myanmar’s Department of Health spoke, as did Valerie DiFillipo of FP2020; Mario Festin, Suzanne Reier, and Arvind Mathur of WHO; Oying Rimon from the Gates Institute at Johns Hopkins; country representative of UNFPA Myanmar, Janet Jackson; Stanford University’s Dr. Paul Blumenthal; Dr. Julianto Witjaksono of the National Family Planning and Population Board in Indonesia; and Pathfinder’s Candace Lew.
Myanmar experts, Dr. Ne Win, Dr. Saw Lwin, and Dr. Khin Moe Thwe, also presented effective approaches being implemented already in their townships.
On the second day of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation-supported conference, participants divided into small groups and talked through successes, bottlenecks and their root causes that hamper contraceptive service delivery.
The ten township teams focused on six thematic areas: Commodity Security, Human Resources, Service Utilization, Use of Long-Acting and Reversible Contraception, Public Private Partnership, Data Collection and Monitoring.
Next, each team took one of these areas and went further to develop policy change recommendations and guideline development requests to the Ministry of Health. Then, they continued to discuss three priorities for each township and how they would address them once they returned home.
As the conference continued, I thought back many times to the Minister’s words – as I watched township members argue over the role of auxiliary midwives in contraceptive service delivery, or two attendees from two very different parts of the country come together to identify common issues and challenges to service delivery.
And now that the conference has ended, my excitement remains high. We now have a long list of policy recommendations for the central government and Ministry of Health, and townships have action plans to take home (plus many family planning tools and publications in their language, and their favorite item: a special rubber uterus model developed by our colleagues in Pakistan for home visits and training).
I feel honored to be a part of this groundbreaking effort to ensure “full access, full choice” of contraceptives and other reproductive health services in Myanmar. I feel optimistic about how these township teams will be able to better deliver family planning services in their region of the country.
And I am proud of the attendees for taking Minister Pe Thet Khin’s words to heart – and fully participating for the good of their nation.