In Myanmar, the rate of deaths among children under age 5 is still high, but Dr. Sara Mayet (MD, MPH), in close collaboration with the country's Ministry of Health and Sports, is working hard to save lives.
As a health specialist with UNICEF, Sara's work is focused on improving maternal, newborn, and child health. “The big challenge we have is that about 60 percent of deliveries here still happen at home. We're working to reduce that number and to improve facility-based deliveries,” Sara says. Her background in public health has helped her enormously in her work.
As an early-career doctor working for the United Nations in a remote area of Myanmar, Sara started to realize the impact of public health projects. “I had always wanted to become a doctor, but working with the UN High Commission on Refugees at the border of Bangladesh and Myanmar helped me to understand the importance of the public health way of thinking,” she says. She decided to pursue her Master of Public Health (MPH) at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.
Sara's family is from India, but she was born in Myanmar and grew up in a conservative community there. “At UH, I felt at home, I felt very supported,” Sara says. Through her interactions with students from other Asian countries, the U.S., and elsewhere, she learned about many different cultures.
In the public health program, the emphasis was on critical thinking. Students were taught to look at situations and identify strengths and weaknesses. “I started learning how to learn,” Sara says. A particularly influential class was the course on monitoring and evaluation that she took with Dr. Kathryn Braun, DrPH, the director of UH Public Health. The coursework included learning how to coordinate and organize public health programs, and how to network with partner organizations that are working towards the same goal.
“The things I learned in that course are exactly what I'm doing today at UNICEF,” she says.
A project that she is especially proud of is the Child Death Surveillance Response (CDSR) system, which her team launched in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Sports (MoHS) in 2014. The system is aimed at identifying the preventable causes of death among children under 5 and finding appropriate actions to prevent similar incidents in the future. “With the assistance of other experts, we have rolled it out nationwide. It's not yet a perfect system, but it is functioning, and we're assisting MoHS with improvements to achieve better functionality throughout these years,” Sara says.
Working in public health can mean working for years toward a large goal, she says. As a doctor in the clinic, she can see patients who feel better after a treatment. In public health, improvements can take much longer to come to fruition. “You cannot see the results right away,” Sara says. “But over time, you can see the big differences you are making.”
Photo caption: Dr. Sara Mayet (front right) meets with women and infants in Myanmar. Photo courtesy of Dr. Sara Mayet.