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Pun Hlaing Siloam Hospitals CEO on Myanmar's COVID-19 situation

Dr Gershu C Paul shares his outlook for the country’s healthcare sector post-pandemic.

Dr Gershu C Paul, CEO of Pun Hlaing Siloam Hospitals, has over 34 years of international health experience at an executive level. His expertise is in health services planning, population based fund models, strategy development and implementation, mergers and acquisitions (M&A), project management, as well as clinical operations.

As the CEO and president director of Siloam Hospitals, Indonesia for9 years , Dr Gershu took the then 4 hospital group to a 30 hospital group, with an operating revenue of over US$350m, and a successful listing on the Jakarta Stock Exchange in September 2013 at a market capitalisation of US$1.8b.

In an interview with Healthcare Asia, Dr Gershu shares how Myanmar is facing the COVID-19 crisis and his outlook for the country’s healthcare sector post-pandemic.

Can you share with us your work experience or any backstory that has contributed to your professional career?

I have over 34 years of International Health Experience at an executive level. His expertise is in health services planning, population-based fund models, strategy development and implementation, M&A, project management and clinical operations. Before joining Pun Hlaing Siloam Hospital in 2014, Dr Gershu held senior executive positions in Sri Lanka, New Zealand, Australia and Indonesia.

In 2014 February, I moved to Myanmar to lead Pun Hlaing Siloam Hospitals (PHSH) Group. Using the existing team, within 18 months he revitalised and transformed the operation to deliver a positive EBITA after a 10-year loss-making period. PHSH also became the first and only JCIA hospital in Myanmar in 2017. Since then, plans have been solidified for a 10 Hospital expansion, and PHSH has today expanded to three Hospitals and three clinics.

How is the healthcare sector, specifically in Myanmar, responding to the pandemic?

We are in a syndemic globally. As a result, the healthcare infrastructure across all countries is struggling.

We are struggling not only from a supply-side perspective but also from a moral hazard and ethical dilemma, of how to cater to a healthy population based on the demand side. A demand-side ballooned by COVID overlaying a system that is already stretched dealing with the NCD’s, cancer, and in our part of the world with other significant infectious diseases.

Myanmar’s healthcare sector is predominantly public and has coped up to this point. The private sector, on the other hand, is struggling due to the drop in people seeking healthcare driven by, I guess, coronaphobia.

With the surge now on the ascent, the public sector is significantly stretched, and I am afraid the elasticity to respond will be compromised. Hence, the engagement of the private sector is essential, even though on its own, it lacks the capacity and capability to deal with COVID.

Notwithstanding, the Myanmar government now actively engages with the private healthcare sector to identify how the two sectors can work in synergy. Only joint efforts may flatten the curve through release and allocation of capacity to test, contain and treat COVID-19.

This dynamic will be a challenge for growth economies (perhaps even advanced economies) the world over, and Myanmar is no different.

What is your outlook for Myanmar's healthcare sector post-pandemic?

Growth, growth, and growth with a 'leapfrog' mindset in the supply side are what I believe will happen in Myanmar over the next decade.

The inflection point which is very much linked to the PPP per capita and disposable income, I believe, is round the corner - perhaps two years from now. The private sector across the verticals of service delivery, technology and devices will grow in the double digits once we get over the COVID hump.

Meanwhile, the public sector has to plan meticulously, and will hopefully take a page out of countries like Vietnam, Thailand, and Taiwan on the road to introducing UHC by 2030.

I also believe that reverse migration in health-seeking behaviour will progressively grow over the next five years as our system matures and lifts itself to the best of the class delivery platform.

At Pun Hlaing Hospital, we would like to believe that we play a lead role in thought leadership to transform healthcare in our country. Getting the JCI gold standard, implementing a paperless EMR hospital, practising a clinical governance ethos, etc., all of which are a first in the country, are some of the milestones for us on this fantastic journey.

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