Zaw is a 6 year old boy with Down's Syndrome, who is currently staying on the paediatric oncology ward with his father at Mandalay Children’s Hospital in Myanmar.
Zaw is the youngest in his family, and lives on his parent’s farm with his 3 older sisters. The farm earns 150,000 MMK (£90) annually.
He had been suffering with pains in his legs for around a month, when his father decided to take him to the small township hospital close to their home. The hospital had just one doctor, who advised that Zaw should be taken to Mandalay Children’s Hospital.
The journey to Mandalay is not an easy one for Zaw’s family. They had to travel for an hour by motorbike to reach the bus station, and then travel by bus for 9 hours to the city. This journey cost 17,000 MMK (£10) for Zaw and his father.
Once they arrived at the children’s hospital they were referred to the orthopaedic unit for tests and stayed there for 1 and half months before doctors finally realised that Zaw could have cancer, and referred him to the paediatric oncology ward upstairs. By the time they were sent to the cancer ward, Zaw’s father had already spent 1 million MMK (£600) of their savings on their stay, without yet having received a diagnosis. This delay was largely due to a lack of internal processes at the hospital.
Zaw was diagnosed with leukaemia when he arrived on the cancer ward, and his father was told that he would need 3 years of treatment to have the best possible chance of cure. This presented an overwhelming financial burden for the family, who had already spent most of their money. Myanmar government funding provides some chemotherapy, but the budget has recently been cut and other essential treatment-related costs such as diagnostic tests, procedures and antibiotics are not covered.
Zaw started to receive treatment, but the money quickly ran out. When there was a short gap in Zaw's treatment, his father chose to take him back home. Once there he sold most of the farm, making 500,000 MMK (£600) in the sale. He then returned to Mandalay so that Zaw could continue with his treatment.
When the money runs out again, Zaw’s father is not sure of what they will do. He had never heard of children getting cancer before they came to the hospital, but the doctors have explained how important it is that Zaw continues his treatment, if he is to have a chance.
The financial burden for families like Zaw’s in Mandalay, and all over Myanmar is huge. World Child Cancer currently supports some of the costs of families in Yangon, but to help more vulnerable children across the country we need to raise more and expand our impact.