A discussion of global health

Myaing Myaing Nyunt MD MPH PhD P’16 spoke to an enthusiastic crowd at the College about her work in global health on April 15. Nyunt has focused deeply throughout her career on efforts to eradicate malaria, a topic she discussed in detail at the talk.

Nyunt is a native of Myanmar/Burma, but left the country in 1988 during her last year of medical school and began living on the Thai-Burma border, eventually moving on to England and the United States to complete her education.

To begin her lecture, Nyunt asked the group who understands the term “global health,” soon stating that she believes it implies “health doesn’t exist alone…health impacts the economy and political stability and [vice versa].”

Although she now has a deep understanding of the nuances of global health, Nyunt said she “knew nothing about global health or malaria” while she was growing up. Her first experience with malaria occurred when she joined thousands of other students fleeing the country towards the Thai-Myanmar border.

Nyunt said that “lots” of her fellow students got sick and it was “very depressing” given the lack of available treatment. While the resources being put towards malaria in developing countries have improved over the past decades, Nyunt noted “the list of erectile disfunction drugs [remains] longer than the list of malaria drugs.”

Following her trying experience on the Thai-Myanmar border, Nyunt went to the United States where she attended Bard College at Simon’s Rock. Though she also attended medical school at George Washington University School of Medicine, Nyunt decided to go back to the border area to learn about what she wanted to focus on throughout her professional career.

Nyunt described Myanmar as “depressingly similar” upon her return. After realizing her fascination with malaria, Nyunt worked with a mobile clinic that moved along the river to treat it. The clinic also treated warring members of the Burmese army, which made Nyunt “realize everyone is suffering [from the conflict], not just people outside of the government…even people in the military dictatorship are scared to death.”

Although her work treating patients along the river was fulfilling, Nyunt said “we were not doing anything to change the situation, we were just dealing with it”– a realization that inspired Nyunt to pursue medical research.

“Powerful research gives you hope… it is motivating and powerful,” she said. Nyunt views research relating to pregnant women as especially important, though some argue that there are ethics questions to be explored due to potential liability issues. In response to those concerns, Nyunt argued, “What is less ethical? Doing research on pregnant women, or treating pregnant women without any data or evidence on how to use drugs on them?” Nyunt consequently did work in sub-Saharan Africa treating pregnant women infected with malaria.

As the current Director of the Institute for Global Health Myanmar, Nyunt’s role is multifaceted. She both conducts research and tries to “engage with the government and the leaders to train people in ethics and professionalism.”

Nyunt has also recently accepted a visiting professor role at the University of Medicine I in Myanmar.

Leave a Reply