What Bangladesh could learn from Myanmar to improve South-South Cooperation in public health

A delegation of Bangladeshi health researchers, including Dr Iqbal Anwar, scientist and project director at icddr,b, along with senior representatives from the Bangladeshi government travelled to Myanmar in July to share experiences and discuss opportunities for increased bilateral cooperation in public health.

The visit highlighted the value of increased South-South collaboration and knowledge sharing to tackle emerging health problems in developing countries, particularly the rising incidence of chronic non-communicable lifestyle diseases such as diabetes and hypertension.

Photos: Monjur Ahmed / icddr,b


Taking place in Yangon and Nay Tie Paw, Myanmar, it was part of the South-South Collaboration component of the EU-supported SHARE (Strengthening Health, Applying Research Evidence) initiative.

Attendants discussed a range of public health issues and opportunities for expanded cooperation between the two nations. Cost-effective interventions to address non-communicable diseases (NCDs) came up as a major topic of conversation.

The visit highlighted the value of South-South collaboration in public health and medicine and allowed the Bangladeshi delegates to learn the details of NCD prevention initiatives being implemented in Myanmar under the EU-funded Strengthening of Public Health Institute Programme (SPHIP). This is kind of activity is celebrated by the “United Nations Day for South-South Cooperation,” observed on 12 September.

Bangladesh and her neighbouring countries share similar contexts and challenges with respect to public health. Myanmar and Bangladesh both suffer from weak public health infrastructure and limited government spending. Both countries have a severe shortage of human resources for public health, and have limited capacities for designing and implementing evidence-informed health policies. Knowledge sharing could help both Bangladesh and Myanmar overcome these limitations.

The visit kicked off with the Bangladeshi delegation meeting a team from HelpAge International, Myanmar. Dr Soe Myint, Public Health Technical Adviser at HelpAge Myanmar, led the discussion and briefed the delegates on how the SPHIP initiative is strengthening Myanmar’s capacity to address NCDs. Under the EU-funded SPHIP programme, HelpAge Myanmar plans to conduct research studies on NCD mortality and the preparedness / responsiveness of health services in tackling NCDs.

Photos: Monjur Ahmed / icddr,b


Knowledge sharing was continued  at the University of Public Health (UPH) in Nay Pyi Taw. The team learnt about UPH’s capacity building initiatives in policy analysis and development. Dr Sohana Shafique, senior research investigator at icddr,b, talked about health policy design training workshops conducted in Bangladesh under the SHARE initiative, and made proposals for shared technical support between the two nations in this area.

Later, Dr Myint Shwe, director of NCDs under the Department of Public Health, welcomed the Bangladeshi delegates and discussed government plans for NCD prevention and control in Myanmar and the Health Management Information System Department, where they learned about District Health Information System 2 (DHIS2) software use in Myanmar.

Dr Jannatul Ferdous, deputy project coordinator at icddr,b, briefed the Myanmar team on the overall progress of DHIS2 implementation in Bangladesh. The delegates from Bangladesh and their counterparts in Myanmar agreed that they would explore avenues for knowledge sharing in the field of health information management.

The Bangladeshi delegation visited a Package of Essential Non-communicable (PEN) Disease Intervention site, managed under a rural health centre at Hmawbi Township in Myanmar. Under the WHO-designed PEN interventions, inexpensive medications are used and preventative lifestyle changes are promoted. These interventions include treatment of diabetes, hypertension and dyslipidaemia, counselling for quitting smoking, avoidance of alcohol abuse, healthy diet and regular exercise.

The visit showcased the value of increased South-South cooperation in public health, and how programmes like the EU-funded SHARE initiative can act as catalysts to promote capacity building and evidence-informed health policy across the global South.

Dr Iqbal Anwar expressed much optimism regarding future possibilities for cooperation with Myanmar: “Such experience sharing visits by icddr,b will stimulate ‘out of the box’thinking about the possibilities for regional cooperation, and inform policy makers on best practices and research evidence in health policy making. We must continue the momentum,”he shares.

The next programme on South-South Collaboration under icddr,b’s SHARE initiative is scheduled to be held in Bangladesh in early 2017.