CGH & CCOUC Lunchtime Lecture:
A Complex Context – Myanmar, Disasters and the Health System

Dr Andrew Darby Smith from Oxford shared his research on disaster risk and the health system response capacity of Myanmar in a lunchtime lecture jointly hosted by CUHK Centre for Global Health and CCOUC on 23 November 2015. Attended by 39 people, participants learnt about the complexity of the country’s health situation, portrayed against a backdrop of rapid political and economic transformation. Dr Smith, a clinical doctor, attached to CCOUC under a three-month fellowship in the Fall semester of 2015 to conduct research in the field of disaster management, particularly within the Myanmar context. His research attachment included a two-week field trip to the country.

Dr Smith’s talk began with the background context of the country’s history and demographic makeup, followed by an overview of the health system structure and expenditure in the country. With 1 in 4 people living in poverty, the socio-economic capacity for healthcare development was minimal. Some of the core public health issues highlighted were malnutrition, inadequate health education, multi-drug resistant tuberculosis, and disaster risk reduction.

Using the WADEM conceptual framework for disaster development, Dr Smith analysed Myanmar’s inherent disaster risks and corresponding response capacities. As a geographically diverse country, different provinces are regularly susceptible to cyclones, tsunamis, floods, droughts, fires, earthquakes and landslides. In addition, Dr Smith highlighted additional factors which could contribute to situations of complex emergency within the country: ongoing internal conflicts, the high number of internally displaced people and the persecution of the Rohingya ‘stateless’ ethnic group. Taken together, Myanmar faces substantial disaster risk which is exacerbated by an under-resourced and under-developed health system. Despite national and regional efforts to build disaster risk reduction, the country still has a long way to go for all of its regions to be fully prepared. Dr Smith concluded by highlighting some ways in which CCOUC and other academic and NGO groups could help to build disaster response capacity and community resilience in Myanmar. CCOUC is currently exploring ways to collaborate with local academic actors in Myanmar, and to facilitate disaster preparedness enhancement activities.

Dr Smith is now receiving training under the Academic Foundation Programme at Oxford University Hospitals. He graduated from Imperial College London with honours in his medical degree and intercalated pharmacology degree. He is working towards specialising in emergency medicine, and returns intermittently to Imperial College as a clinical lecturer.