Burnet delegation discusses health issues in Myanmar with Aung San Suu Kyi. Photo by Soe Lin Htut
By Jeff Turnbull, AAP
Burnet Board member and former Australian Democrats leader Natasha Stott Despoja was almost in awe when she met with her political heroine Aung San Suu Kyi as part of a visiting Burnet Institute delegation to Myanmar.
The delegation, which also included Burnet Director and CEO Professor Brendan Crabb, Burnet Chairman Alastair Lucas AM and local Burnet staff, talked about the health problems facing the country as it emerges from decades of military rule in a meeting that lasted one hour.
Ms Stott Despoja said the Australians discussed with 66-year-old Ms Suu Kyi everything from the complexity of maternal and child health issues to HIV/AIDS and malaria through to the lack of skilled medical professionals in the region.
“It was a great honour to meet her,” Ms Stott Despoja said from the capital Nay Pyi Taw.
The delegation took the opportunity to invite Ms Suu Kyi, who spent 25 years under home arrest, to give the Burnet Oration in Australia and she said she would consider it.
“It was clear she had an interest in Australia and that she was interested in visiting some time in the future,” Ms Stott Despoja said.
“She has been a political inspiration for me, indeed she is my political heroine. Meeting her was an extraordinary honour and one I will remember for the rest of my life.”
Professor Crabb had visited Myanmar three years ago and he said the difference now that it was transferring to democratic rule was like “chalk and cheese”.
“We’ve had the opportunity to do and see things that were not possible before,” he said.
“We are focusing on mother and child health because here in Myanmar the frequency of death in child birth is around 100 times more than in Australia.”
He said the work of the Burnet Institute in Myanmar was to find ways where women who live in poor, remote or rural settings are able to give birth to their child safely at home.
He said too many deaths occurred through infection, loss of blood or issues related to blood-pressure.
“By coming here we can see first-hand what the priorities are and talk to people like Aung San Suu Kyi and the Myanmar government to see what their priorities are,” Professor Crabb said.
Caption: Burnet delegation discuss a range of health issues with Aung San Suu Kyi