The Goodwill Ambassador visits a rural health center in south central Myanmar.
All smiles: Thida Myint, center, and friends
MYANMAR (OCTOBER 25)
During a recent visit to Myanmar, I had the opportunity to visit a rural health center about 250 kilometers from Yangon. I was joined by Dr. Kyaw Myint, who is in charge of the Ministry of Health's Leprosy Control Program.
Myanmar achieved the goal of eliminating leprosy as a public health problem in 2003. Since then, it has worked to sustain the momentum of leprosy control activities, focusing on further reducing the burden of the disease, preventing disabilities and rehabilitation. The prevalence rate of the disease today is under 0.5 per 10,000 people.
Throughout the country, 3,383 new cases of leprosy were detected and treated with MDT in 2008. About 80% of these cases were detected by voluntary reporting, reflecting that fact that there was increased awareness of the disease in the community.
Notwithstanding the progress Myanmar is making, Dr. Kyaw Myint told me that it is crucial that the country continue its efforts to sustain leprosy control activities and establish an appropriate network for the care of persons with disabilities in order to minimize the physical, mental, economic and social consequences of the disease.
Kyun Kone Rural Health Center is one of five rural health centers in Taungoo township, Bago division, and serves a population of 36,000 people. The leprosy control program is represented by a district leprosy team leader, a leprosy inspector and two junior leprosy workers.
In 2008, 37 new cases were discovered in Taungoo township as a whole. One patient was under 15 and seven had Grade II disability. I met with seven people affected by leprosy -- five women and two men -- who told me about the various challenges they face as a consequence of the disease. One of these was Thida Myint.
Thida Myint is 36 and lives with her mother. She has two brothers and one sister. She was diagnosed with leprosy at the age of 18, when she was attending high school. She underwent treatment with MDT for a year, but had to drop out of school because of the state of her health and her family's straitened economic circumstances.
She is now attending sewing training for income generation. Although she has some disability, Thida Myint said she wants to be selfreliant, while looking after her mother as best she can. She also expressed her strong desire to give moral support and assistance to persons affected by leprosy and share her life experience with them.
I was very impressed with Thida Myint's attitude. Strengthening ties among people affected by leprosy is important, as is having a positive outlook in the face of adversity. I have no doubt that she will encourage and inspire many people.