Just two hospices for country of 55 million people

MYANMAR - Guests smiled as Ms Naw Say Phaw walked down the aisle - at her wedding held in the grounds of the hospice where she works with the terminally ill.

The 22-year-old nursing aide, who married one of the hospice's gardeners, saw no irony in celebrating the beginning of a new life among dying people.

They were family, after all. She has grown up in the hospice since her mother was brought in on a stretcher with end-stage anal cancer in 2002. The hospice is one of two in Myanmar run by local charity U Hla Tun Hospice Foundation. It costs 10 million kyat (S$13,225) a month to run the two 40-bed hospices, which are funded entirely by donations.

Unlike the cramped and unhygienic public hospitals, the hospices are clean, airy and comfortable. At Yangon General Hospital where there is a bed shortage, benches are combined to form a "bed" for spill-over patients. These are squeezed in between other beds with threadbare mattresses. In contrast, at the hospices, sliding screens between the beds give patients privacy.

The two hospices, in Yangon and Mandalay, are integrated communities housing Buddhist prayer rooms, Christian chapels, music therapy rooms and staff quarters. Pagoda visits and birthday parties are arranged for patients.

With just two hospices for Myanmar's 55 million population, they can admit only terminally ill cancer patients who are destitute and have no family support. So far, more than 5,000 have benefited and their funeral and burial expenses have all been taken care of.

When Ms Naw Say Phaw's mother, Daw Naw Yu, first came in, jolts of pain shot from her backside up her spine. The cancer is now in remission but the 67-year-old still needs tablets or morphine injections to manage the pain.

"With all this care, I can be happy and live longer," said the widow. "Every day I pray to Jesus to thank him for my life, this place and the people here who have become like my family."

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