Interview: Dr Watson Aphiwatanakoon
Do you think the establishment of private health care institutions in Myanmar will help stem the current outflow of patients to Thailand?
DR WATSON APHIWATANAKOON: Private hospitals have started to appear in Myanmar for this reason, since people prefer to stay and receive quality health care rather than seek it abroad. The waiting time here for a simple consultation can sometimes be weeks or months, and there are few available doctors in the cities. They are overworked, moving from one clinic to another in heavy traffic, and hospitals cannot meet the current daily demand from patients.
I believe that building more private hospitals is not the only solution, but could contribute to the development of the health care sector, and ultimately help to stop the outflow of patients to Thailand. Citizens of Myanmar have not, until now, had access to in-house physicians available around the clock. The private sector has also improved emergency care.
How can foreign investors in the sector capitalise on the opportunities the Myanmar market offers without compromising quality?
APHIWATANAKOON: If you look at the investment needed to build and operate a hospital in Myanmar compared with Thailand, there are similarities in terms of factors such as price per bed. However, it is hard to secure a continuous supply of basic utilities like power, and therefore investors in the health care sector have to account for additional costs for items such as power generators. Considering these conditions, the investment required for a top-quality hospital in Thailand is equal to a mid-level hospital in Myanmar. The cost of running continuous electricity for X-ray and MRI machines is three times higher in Myanmar than in Thailand. For example, an MRI device in Bangkok needs 20 minutes of extra battery power to comply with regulations, while the extra time required goes up to four hours in Myanmar.
What do you think of efforts made by the Myanmar Food and Drug Administration to lower taxes on pharmaceutical imports?
APHIWATANAKOON: Besides the tax reduction that applies to pharmaceutical and medical imports, the Ministry of Health and Sports, and the Directorate of Investment and Company Administration need to focus on speeding up the different registration processes. For instance, we were granted a five-year tax exemption, which has been reduced to three as it took two years to get the license.
Additionally, doctors in Myanmar are overworked, but this trend could change easily if the government invests in more medical and nursery nursing schools, and puts specific exchange programmes in place to attract doctors and other medically trained staff who once left Myanmar for other countries looking for better employment opportunities.
It is my opinion that in order to enhance today’s health care environment in Myanmar and to drive potential investment in the sector, more cooperation and cohesion between the government and neighbouring countries is needed.
How profitable will Myanmar’s private health care sector be in the coming years, and how can the government help international investors?
APHIWATANAKOON: I think demand will continue to grow in the coming years, and that is the main factor that will ensure a sound return on investment. Currently, most health care projects in the country generate profit after three years, which makes the sector very attractive to foreign investors.
Moreover, Myanmar does not only offer opportunities in the capital, Yangon. The country has many cities that are experiencing rapid growth. The middle class is slowly becoming established in Myanmar, and I believe that will definitely provide more opportunities in the health care sector in the years to come.
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