Can a Consent Form Help Build a More Open Burma?

Can a Consent Form Help Build a More Open Burma?


In Myanmar community, it is very unusual for a doctor to sit down—you know—face to face with the patient and explain everything,
and ask for permission. You know, when we do a small consent form, we are really disseminating this little idea of autonomy, little idea of justice. I left Burma in 1988 when I was in medical
school. It was unplanned. There was a big political uprising that almost toppled down the military government, but we didn’t make it all the way. It was really a life changing experience for
me in that one and a half years on the Thai–Burma border, working along the border on a mobile clinic, we see a young soldiers who put on civilian clothings and cross a river to come
to us to get malaria pills. We can tell from their, you know, crew cut—you know, the hairstyle—and the way they dress, and fear in their eyes, and we realize is
that you can hate whoever that you’re seeing but you still treat the same way as you do
with anybody else. I am trained as a hardcore scientist, but
clinical research becomes so interesting to me. It’s not because of the science alone, but
the application of that science into the human perspective, human—you know—justice and
ethics. In Burma now, we have two parallel tracks
ongoing. One is really pure research in the field,
working with midwives and pregnant women and doing malaria research. The other pathway is to apply the philosophy of research ethics into different levels of medical education. Also in the clinical care, starting from very
low level of health workers and midwives, all the way to the hospital administrator,
to the minister of health. So, you know, when we do a research project, we have to get a consent from the community. You know, we will tell them exactly what we’ll be doing. So there is an immediate connection between the researchers—us—and the community. We have to be transparent. We have to be very respectful. We have to tell them how important it is for
us to have autonomy, to understand autonomy, and for them to show their autonomy. Political transition must come from within. It must come from every single level of a
society. It cannot just come from the leadership—it’s
not going to last. I believe that the small changes must take
place to get to a one large goal.

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