Profiteering from Death
The Myanmar Times Weekly, August 13, 2018
Ma Phu Pwint could not get over the nightmare she underwent three months ago at Yangon General Hospital.
The 22-year-old lady from Haing Gyi Island in Ayeyarwady Region accompanied her uncle to Yangon General Hospital to get his cancer treated. But after two months of treatment, he died.
As if losing a loved one was not painful enough, Ma Phu Pwint’s suffering worsened as she was charged with exorbitant fee to transport her uncle’s body home by so-called philanthropic organizations that have “ambulances” parked at the YGH compound while waiting on their prey.
“He died at 11pm. I wanted to immediately take him home but I didn’t know which funeral assistance service to call. Then when I inquired at the hospital about a vehicle that could take my uncle’s body home, I was told that I have to pay K700,000 (USD 476)for the trip,” she said.
The hospital staff warned her to take the body of her uncle out in the next 24 hours or it would be brought to the morgue and she had to pay more and need to secure several permits before the body could be released.
“As there were vehicles parked in the hospital, I went and asked them. My aunt was crying and begging me just to find a vehicle to take our uncle’s body back home. Finally, my brother was able to bring down the price a bit to K500,000 for the trip,” she said.
Ma Phu Pwint was not the only victim of these unscrupulous persons who profits from the miseries of others.
Daw Mya Mya from Kankyi Village, Kyunsu Township of Myeik District in Tanintharyi Region brought her father in early July at Yangon General Hospital so he can be treated for his liver ailment. But two days later he passed away.
The hospital staff told her to take out his body immediately as it will be brought to the morgue if she took some time to pull out the remains of her father. The staff warned her that once the body is in the morgue, she would have to pay at least K200, 000 and would need a lot of clearances before she can bring her father back home.
The staff offered to help her find transportation.
“I accepted their proposal as I wanted to leave immediately. They said it would cost around K1.2 million to transport the body to Myeik. We could not afford it. We only had K200, 000 and when I asked him to lower the price; he said it was the lowest he could get. When we begged him that we could not afford it, he asked me for K800, 000 and provided us with a small car,” she narrated, her tears welling from her eyes.
These groups not only prey on the relatives of the dead but also those terminally ill, whose relatives want to take back to their hometown instead of staying at YGH. They have connections with hospital staff and taxi drivers, in case the patient would need smaller vehicles.
“Our hospital is not in a position to carry dying patients or dead bodies back to their hometown,” said one YGH doctor, adding that many patients from YGH came from lower Myanmar such as Ayeyarwady and Bago regions as well as Mon State.
There are between 300 and 400 patients being discharged daily in YGH, a good number of them would need the services of these so –called philanthropic organizations that fitted their vehicles with sirens and flashing lights, just like a regular ambulance.
Corpse and patients carrying service cars include those with Health Service Executive (HSE) number plates, black number plates, and red number plates.
“They wait at the hospital 24 hours. They carry the patients after successfully negotiating for the fees with the relatives,” another YGH doctor said.
U Kyaw Win Tun, who is in charge of Ma U Kone Lan Kyal youth voluntary organization which provides free ambulance services in YGH, said their vehicles can no longer respond to emergency cases because most ambulances of voluntary organizations are not registered and are no longer allowed to travel in Yangon and other states and regions as well.
“Brokers can afford cars so they are providing ambulance service by forming a nominal voluntary organization. About 50 in 100 ambulances parked around the hospital are providing ambulance services for a fee,” he said.
These businessmen bribe hospital staff from K10, 000 to K15, 000 for every potential client they could bring to them, a hospital spokesman said.
“By giving competitive bribes, they become aggressive. These nominal voluntary organizations started the transportation service for profit. To be honest, they gave our staff money enough to induce them to cooperate with their questionable activities,” he added.
The administration authority has often heard these stories about these illicit transactions but they are still unable to take actions because no one, not even the family of patients, complained about this.
The current rate for one way trip by the nominal voluntary organizations to Myiek is K1.3 million; Myitkyina, K1.7 million; Pathein, K600, 000; and Bago, K150, 000, according to the official organizations.
Earlier this year, there was a confrontation between doctors and these groups as they parked and even washed their vehicles at parking lots reserved for doctors.
Some of these groups warned those who tried to expose their illicit activities, threatening them with acid attacks, according to a hospital source.
“This business is bringing in lots of money. We don’t know who’s involved. Even top-level officials might be involved,” said a doctor from the administrative authority group of YGH.
The YGH management has taken some measures to address the problem, such as issuing a guideline that only family members of the dead patient can take his or her remains.
The hospital authority also announced the six social welfare teams relatives of patients can contact in case they would need transportation service. These teams are officially linked with Yangon General Hospital.
But the hospital authorities do not prohibit relatives of patients from making their own arrangements to transport their sick relatives. Furthermore, the YGH management also made clear to the patient’s relatives that they do not need to pay any money when they take the body from mortuary.
But such measures remain inadequate due to the large number of people who want to transport their dead or their terminally ill relatives back home.
The hospital cannot offer to bring the dead or the terminally ill patients back to their residence as they only have 10 ambulances.
There are over 1600 or 1700 in-patient at Yangon General Hospital daily. There are also nearly 400 emergency patients daily and every patient could not all be treated at the hospital and so have to be transferred to the other hospital, according to hospital authorities.
“We do have not enough ambulance. We’ve assigned day and night shifts for ambulance drivers. And we have to repair these ambulances often as they are being used all the time. That’s why ambulances cannot be sent to rural areas,” a hospital official said.
A senior hospital official said plans are afoot to set up a call centre that would link up YGH branches and other organizations so that resources can be shared and use efficiently, including the ambulance services.
He said the plan is now being discussed with Myanmar Red Cross Society and voluntary social welfare associations.
“We’re implementing a call centre by asking advice from international experts,” the official said.
If successful, the hospital call centre project would be implemented nationwide, he added.
U Aung Naing Win, from the Shwe Thanlyin Funeral Service, there are more than 140 voluntary social welfare teams that can help in providing free ambulance services to YGH.
But U Kyaw Win Tun, from Ma U Kone Lan Kyal youth voluntary organization, underscored the need to monitor the ambulances of these volunteer organizations as some individuals used these vehicles for illegal activities.
“Timber and narcotic drugs are transported illegally using ambulances. People misunderstood that voluntary organizations were the ones doing it,” he said. “The reputations of voluntary teams which are not part of these illicit activities are damaged because of these few bad eggs.”