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Dr Si Thura: Responding to the global COVID-19 pandemic

Posted: 24 May 2022

Alumni, COVID-19, Health,

Australia Awards alumnus, Dr Si Thura, has been involved in COVID-19 prevention, control and treatment in Asia since the beginning of the pandemic. He is the Executive Director of Community Partners International (CPI), a U.S. non-profit organisation that empowers vulnerable communities in Asia to meet their essential health, humanitarian and development needs.

Reflecting on his work experience before being selected for an Australia Awards Scholarship, he recalls; “I joined Community Partners International in 2009 as a program coordinator supporting vulnerable communities in Myanmar to build community resilience in health and humanitarian services. I worked with local civil society leaders to strengthen local organisations and implement community-driven activities in remote areas.”

Dr Si Thura was awarded an Australia Awards Scholarship to acquire a master’s degree in public health at the Australian National University.

“The Australia Awards Scholarship enabled me to study major public health subjects such as epidemiology, biostatistics, qualitative and quantitative research, organisation and project management, global health and policy at one of the top universities in the world,” says Dr Si Thura.

He explains that; “The Australia Awards Scholarship not only provides assistance for the postgraduate degree course but also for leadership skills development. The scholarship supported me to attend a youth conference in Perth where I connected with academic and research professionals from different parts of the world and learned about recent developments in youth health and social issues.”

“The skills acquired during my study in Australia empower me to work with people from diverse communities, resolve complex issues, and advocate effectively to policy makers.”

After graduating and returning to Myanmar in 2013, Dr. Si Thura rejoined CPI as a Director and was subsequently promoted to Executive Director in 2017 covering CPI’s multi-country operations. In this role, he leads CPI’s efforts to empower vulnerable communities in Asia to meet their essential health, humanitarian and development needs. In Myanmar, he has helped local civil society and ethnic nationality organisations to strengthen health service delivery and contribute to the goal of universal health coverage.

In 2020 and 2021, Dr Si Thura led CPI’s COVID-19 pandemic response. As the virus brought devastating impacts, CPI mobilised emergency oxygen supplies, treatment and prevention, helping to save thousands of lives in Myanmar, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. In responding to the global pandemic, CPI is focused on closing health equity gaps to ensure that under-served and marginalised populations can access affordable and effective COVID-19 prevention and care services.

“We provide a variety of services ranging from medicines and supplies to the health systems, provision of oxygen therapy and COVID-19 treatment services through health posts, clinics, hospitals and tele-health platforms, to the establishment of community-based oxygen networks and oxygen plants,” explains Dr Si Thura.

In July 2021, a third wave of COVID-19 arrived in Myanmar. The country’s health system was already on the brink of collapse. The number of severe COVID-19 cases and the demand of oxygen increased dramatically in a matter of days. In this context, CPI launched a COVID-19 tele-health project, promoted through local social media channels, to ensure that desperately ill patients could access emergency medical consultations and care.

“Treatment was provided through tele-health consultations. Oxygen concentrators and cylinders were delivered through local civil society networks. For severe cases, mobile medical teams visited patients’ houses to administer treatment and, in some areas, patients were referred to COVID-19 treatment centres run by community-based organisations,” says Dr Si Thura.

The global pandemic brought significant challenges to people’s livelihoods in Myanmar. Under Dr Si Thura’s leadership, CPI helped community organisations establish and grow livelihood projects for women and vulnerable communities. The projects supported women to make cloth face masks, hand sanitiser, soap, and other products for sale. CPI also launched micro-loan and entrepreneurship initiatives to help women to start small enterprises in organic farming and livestock.

Dr Si Thura reports that CPI’s COVID-19 response reached more than one million people in Myanmar, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

“Partnership with local organisations is critical in navigating a variety of obstacles during the pandemic,” Dr Si Thura says.

Dr Si Thura is committed to working for health sector development in Myanmar and across Asia. He encourages international stakeholders “to recognise the key role of local actors and ensure that support is provided as directly as possible to these local organisations to help meet essential health and humanitarian needs.”