Singapore doctor sets up Myanmar liver transplant centre

Move prompted by rising costs and higher rejection rates here, says surgeon

Rising costs - along with more living donor liver transplants being rejected on ethical grounds here - have persuaded one of Singapore's top liver transplant surgeons to set up a centre in Myanmar.

Dr K. C. Tan's firm, Asian American Medical Group, is pumping in $160,000 to set up an $800,000 liver centre in a hospital there. A liver surgeon from Myanmar will put up 30 per cent, while the owners of the Pinlon Hospital will pay half of the total.

Dr Tan expects his team to fly there for a few days every month to run clinics and do surgery when it opens towards the end of this year.

They will start with basic liver surgery. Once the medical staff there are more familiar with the follow-up care liver patients need, Dr Tan and his team will start live-donor transplants.

Given Myanmar's high rates of Hepatitis B and C, he said, many there suffer from liver problems and need transplants.

The centre will also give foreigners, who may find it too expensive to get their transplant done in Singapore, another option, he added.

This also applies to those who are turned down by the Transplant Ethics Committee, which has to ascertain that there is no coercion or commercial transaction involved.

"Liver diseases like Hepatitis often run in families, so it is sometimes difficult to find an immediate family member who is a suitable donor," he said.

Dr Tan said the rejection rate for non blood-related liver donations has been going up over the past three years.

In 2010, two out of six such applications were turned down. While the next year saw all 10 applications allowed, in 2012 two out of three were denied. Last year, three of the five applications were rejected.

Patients need to pay about $10,000 for all the tests required by the ethics committee before it makes a decision. The transplant itself costs more than $250,000.

During the hearing, the committee might also ask for proof of relationship, such as old photographs, to show that the donor and recipient have a long-standing relationship, Dr Tan said.

He added: "No explanation is given when their application is rejected, which is very frustrating for them."

He said one pair who were rejected here went on to get the transplant done in Hong Kong, where they had no problems getting approval.

Dr Tan said hospital costs for liver surgery here have also gone up sharply.

Doing it in Myanmar, even with the Singapore medical team staff collecting the same fee they do here, patients could end up paying half, he said.

Many Myanmar nationals who can afford to now go to Bangkok for such treatment, said Dr Tan.

He hopes to attract a big segment of this market with the Singapore team offering the treatment in Yangon.

He and his team are already going to Kuala Lumpur for about three days a month for liver surgery there - which involves removing parts of a diseased liver.

With the doctors getting the same fee as they do here, liver resection in Kuala Lumpur costs patients RM55,000 (S$21,510). Doing it in Singapore would cost $45,000, he said.

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