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Cablegate: Burma: The Eyes Have It

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.





E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (SBU) Summary: A favorite of ASSK's, U.S.-based NGO ORBIS,
arrived in Mandalay on December 5th. The flying eye hospital
and 11 foreign doctors will spend two weeks providing free
operations for patients and education and hands-on training
for nearly 100 Burmese medical staff. Despite clear benefits
to the local community from the NGO's humanitarian mission,
sustainable progress remains difficult while the GOB refuses
to adequately support healthcare. End summary.

Mandalay Welcomes Flying Eye Hospital

2. (SBU) On December 5th, the U.S.-based NGO ORBIS flew its
eye hospital into Mandalay aboard a DC-10. This flying
hospital has come to Burma once before, in 2000, and ORBIS
conducted six other hospital-based ophthalmologic programs in
Rangoon hospitals prior to that. The objectives of this
latest two-week program are to conduct free eye surgeries for
dozens of patients as well as to provide education and
hands-on training to Burmese ophthalmologists and surgical
nurses as well as equipment and training for medical
technicians at the Mandalay Eye, Ear, Nose, and Throat
Hospital. Over the two weeks, 11 physicians and nurses from
the United States, Europe, and Taiwan will participate in the
program -- sponsored by the Taiwanese national aid agency,
the International Cooperation and Development Fund (ICDF).
According to an official from ICDF, this program is a trial
balloon to assess if further humanitarian aid from Taiwan is

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3. (U) We visited ORBIS' operation in Mandalay during its
weekly screening day as well as one day of onboard surgery.
During the screening day, about 100 patients, referred as
untreatable by local eye doctors come to meet the ORBIS
consultants. The consultants see all of the patients, confer
with local physicians, and refer a small percentage for
surgery. According to ORBIS, the majority of patients suffer
from vision loss due to cataracts with a smaller number due
to glaucoma and posterior segment diseases.

Capacity, Resources a Problem

4. (SBU) ORBIS staff noted that a lack of modern medical
education, an oppressive hierarchical system in the medical
profession (wherein only the senior staff get advanced
training and time on hi-tech equipment), and poor supply and
maintenance of equipment were the main barriers to adequate
care in Burma's eye hospitals. In addition irregular
electricity make it difficult to operate and maintain
sophisticated equipment that has become the norm in developed
country eye clinics.

5. (SBU) Though ORBIS doctors did not make this point, it's
clear most of these problems boil down to resources. The GOB
continues to deny the Ministry of Health (which operates
public hospitals) an adequate budget. In the latest budget
figures, the GOB is allocating only about 0.50 cents per
capita for healthcare.

Comment: ASSK is an ORBIS Fan

6. (SBU) The ORBIS visit has been a priority for more than
two years, when NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi (ASSK) asked for
USG assistance encouraging ORBIS to come back to Burma.
Though the Ministry of Health never opposed the idea, the
wheels of bureaucracy turned incredibly slowly in this case.
ASSK had also asked for our help in contacting Operation
Smile (which does free palate surgeries) and urging that NGO
to come to Burma. While there are short-term benefits to the
local community from the ORBIS missions, sustainable progress
remains unlikely so long as there is poor budgetary and
political support for healthcare. End comment.

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