At the T-RAD Clinic, only one in five patients come in with a condition that is easily identifiable by a medical doctor without the aid of a lab test.
The doctors rely on lab results for diagnoses because there are several diseases common to the area which manifest the same symptoms. If a patient, for example, suffers from diarrhea, fever, and a headache, it could be dengue or malaria which are both mosquitoborne jungle diseases. Or it could be worms from some ill-prepared food the villager has eaten. Or it could be anemia, a common south-eastern Asia hereditary disease that causes a reduction in redblood cells.
Dr. Sha, T-RAD Clinic Medical Director, recognizes the importance of a lab in medical care and discusses the impact the T-RAD Clinic lab has had on people in the area.
“Twenty-thousand patients in two years is a large quantity for any clinic, but it is enormous considering that the entire population of the Ler Doh (Kyaukkyi) township is 113,000. However, not all patients come from this area. Some Karen travel for hours to receive treatment from the T-RAD Clinic. The group in charge of the Karen State’s health care is called the Karen Department of Health and Welfare (KDHW). Due to their struggles with civil war, the Karen have almost no medical resources compared to the rest of Myanmar. There is very little training, few medical clinics, and understaffing.
For many in Karen State, the nearest treatment facility with a laboratory is T-RAD, which is unassociated with any medical division. Every year during rainy season, the Karen face additional difficulties because of the increase in mosquitoes causing dengue and malaria. Dengue reduces white-blood cells, while malaria attacks red-blood cells. The only way to tell is to examine the blood under a microscope. Our laboratory has three main tools. The microscope is the primary tool for diagnosis used in the lab. The second is a biomedical machine. The third machine performs a test called immunoassay. These are three fundamental tools in any laboratory, but the other labs in the Ler Doh (Kyaukkyi) area will at best only have two out of those three testing capabilities, due to the remoteness of the area. It is a long and expensive drive to Yangon (four hours away). When a machine breaks down, or a lens in a microscope cracks, it can take over
two weeks for a specialist to arrive and fix the problem. Additionally, the labs rarely have enough trained technicians, as experienced technicians prefer to work in Yangon. To accommodate the neighboring labs’ needs, the T-RAD Clinic will lend these labs a microscope or even test the samples themselves, giving results in 2-3 hours rather than taking 2-3 weeks from Yangon.
Recently, the T-RAD Clinic lab initiated another strategy for meeting the high demand of lab technicians and the need in KDHW areas, where they have yet to develop a lab technician training
program. The T-RAD Clinic started their own program that trains technicians from different labs in specialized fields. This past month, the clinic trained and housed two visitors. Saw Kyi Lin was trained in blood transfusions and Saw Eh K’lie in malaria.”
As the lab grows, Dr. Sha hopes to increase the number of students to whom they can offer lab training.
The laboratory at the T-RAD Clinic fills multiple roles and offers benefits in diagnoses, inter-clinic assistance, and training, but Dr. Sha, at the end of the interview, is quick to draw attention away from the clinic laboratory itself and redirect it toward its mission in Ler Doh (Kyaukkyi):
“The T-RAD Clinic laboratory is not only for T-RAD and for our Physician’s Assistant program. It is very helpful for the wellbeing of the people around Ler Doh and the three other townships nearby. Their patients are relying on our laboratory services as well as a few KDHW clinics. Yes, we started this work as part of our PA program, but as we are praying and serving, we are seeing that it is becoming a blessing for many more people in the country than we can see or imagine. We believe that this is truly God working through us, showing us how to serve the people He loves. We will continue listening to what He is telling us, and we will continue to serve through our T-RAD Clinic laboratory.”