January 2016 saw a team from Hepatitis B Free (2 doctors, 3 nurses, 1 bioinformatician and 1 student) travel to Myanmar. This was the first of hopefully many productive trips to expand the delivery of hepatitis B vaccines in the country and build partnerships with local teams including the Myanmar Liver Foundation (MLF).
The primary aim of this trip was hepatitis B point-of-care testing and vaccine delivery at Mingalar Parahita Monastery (read ‘orphanage’). The HBF team and a team of 36 from MLF left at daybreak on the 10th of January to travel to Pharyargi village in the Twante township on the outskirts of Myanmar’s capital, Yangon. With a sizeable team we were hopeful that by day’s end we would be able to test and vaccinate the entire population of the orphanage.
After setting up in two small classrooms, class by class, year group by year group, a slow flood of school-aged children, as well as the monks who look after them and a few members of the local township, began to circulate through the doors. Each child was given a personally assigned card with which to detail the results of their test and vaccination history so that appropriate follow-up care could be provided. The incredibly efficient MLF team oversaw the finger-prick testing, before those who tested negative received the hepatitis B vaccine from the HBF team.
Working side-by-side with the local health workers, within just six and a half hours a total of 922 were tested for hepatitis B and 881 received their first vaccine dose. A total of 41 positive test results were returned and counselling was given to those individuals and appropriate referrals were made.
Despite a few tears, we were greatly encouraged by how welcoming the staff and children were and how willing they were to engage with preventative health care. Our short time frame limited our ability to provide follow-up care, however, we are very confident in the MLF team who will be administering the remaining vaccine doses and will ensure follow-up care for the test-positive individuals. It was a great privilege to work with such a dedicated and effective local team of highly qualified individuals to achieve such a positive outcome.
In addition to vaccine delivery, we also provided food donations at the Dhamma Vihara Monastery in Thingangyun, Yangon. Here both orphans and extremely impoverished children are fed, housed and educated under the care of monks. Our donations consisted primarily of rice and oil, as well as small treats that we were able to give to the children ourselves. We were introduced to the head monk who performed a blessing, before being introduced to the children by the founder and director of the orphanage, Aung Din.
Aung Din has over 20 years experience running orphanages and, together with this orphanage, has connections with several remote communities. He reached out to us to be open to future trips that may include both local and remote vaccination programs.
We were very grateful to take part in what was a very successful first trip to Myanmar and look forward to building upon the partnerships that were formed in the future.
Post by Joel Winney