The Healthcare Hero of Hmawbi Township

Phyu Phyu (49 years.) is a wife, mother of three children, and licensed nurse who has faithfully served the Hmawbi Township clinic since 1996 as a nurse and midwife.. Phyu Phyu says that nursing came naturally to her, as her father was a medical officer:

As my father was posted in different places as a medical officer, the family went along with him, and I used to help with patients, surgery, and clinical work since I was young. That sort of thing comes naturally to me, I inherited my father’s skills.

Sadly, she has also seen first-hand the challenges in access to healthcare in her community where there is just one nurse per10,000 people with her maternity ward not having the space to serve all the mothers who come to them.

Early on in her career, patients often came to see her in her home when the clinic was full or they needed her help after hours, sometimes even giving birth in her home. She did her best to serve everyone that came to her, but she began to realize that she could do more for her community by opening her own midwife clinic at her home. So, in 2007, Phyu Phyu got a license and opened her own clinic.

She worked in her clinic in the evenings after her work at the township clinic, regularly putting in long days to serve her patients well, and the patients in her clinic quickly grew as they appreciated the easy access to her clinic and her skillful service. Almost immediately though, she discovered that the medical supplies available in her area were insufficient:

There are around 500 households in each village, but there aren’t enough pharmacy shops stocked with needed items, especially around my village. When I opened the clinic, I needed to stock medicines and medical supplies. So, I found that I needed to start a pharmacy too.

Using savings from her monthly salary and the profit from the clinic, she established the pharmacy and continued to expand her maternity clinic. Funding her growing businesses was a constant challenge. She purchased supplies for the pharmacy on credit from big medical suppliers in Yangon, but they limited her credit to 100,000MMK (US$56) which did not allow her to stock as many items as she needed. Meanwhile, she wanted to upgrade her clinic into a larger building to serve her ever growing number of patients, and hire some more assistant nurses to serve them all.

Initially she turned to a local microfinance provider who gave her enough capital to grow the stock and supplies for the pharmacy and clinic, but the loans were not large enough to increase the size of her facility. So, when her friend told her about the loans for Small and Growing Businesses (SGB) from VisionFund, which offered much larger amounts, she eagerly joined the loan orientation, and in early 2020 received her first SGB Loan of 10,000,000 MMK (US$5620). This loan, which was more than four times the amount of the loan she had previously been able to access, gave her the funds she needed to build a four-storey building for her pharmacy and clinic and increase the stocks in the store. Her monthly revenue grew from 3,000,000 MMK (US$1685) to almost 7,000,000 MMK (US$3930), which, in turn, allowed her to increase her staff, employing three nurses and two other staff to help around the clinic and the store.

When COVID reached her village soon thereafter, the services that she offered quickly became essential. “The loans from VisionFund let me stock the necessary medicines and supplies before the prices in the market went up,” Phuy Phuy highlighted, and her pharmacy continued to serve nearly 100 people per day, even as other pharmacies closed due to lack of medicines. Meanwhile she and her nurses served about 20 expectant mothers per day in the midwife clinic. And, as the pandemic became more and more serious, Phyu Phyu continued serving patients with medicines and health care. Even when the third wave struck Hwambi in mid-2021 leading to widespread sickness, lockdowns, and travel restrictions, she offered health-care consulting to her community via telephone and continued to make house calls for emergency births.

Today, the fight against COVID continues, requiring long hours and ongoing commitment to safety protocols. She estimates that her work has increased 4 to 5 times during the most severe of the COVID waves, but she always ensures that her staff and she are well equipped with PPE, and even uses part of her new building to feed and house herself and her nurses, separate from their families. Her husband has also joined in to support the business and make sure that they continue to serve the community with the medicines and healthcare that is so desperately needed.

In the midst of it all, Phuy Phuy looks ahead to the future of her business. “I always imagine a full private specialist clinic in this four-story building. This is my future plan or dream for my business,” Phyu Phyu said. She is proud of the work that she does and believes that she is making a real difference in her community and, much like how she learned the trade from her father, she hopes to one day pass this on to her children. “My youngest daughter wants to be a doctor,” said Phuy Phuy proudly. “It makes me feel like she will be the one who will follow the path that I have walked.”