AFC Medical Officer Dato Dr Gurcharan Singh, one of the most renowned experts in the area of sports medicine in Asia, has joined the FIFA team in Myanmar for the implementation of the ‘11 for Health programme.’
In the following interview with FIFA.com, Singh identifies the key health challenges facing Myanmar and how football can make a concrete contribution to tackling some crucial issues in the country.
FIFA.com: Dr. Singh, can you tell us what are the main health issues in Myanmar, especially the ones affecting the young?
Dr. Singh: Epidemiological data in Myanmar is limited, questionable and do not reflect the actual situation on the ground. However, malnutrition coupled with poor hygiene practices has led to high incidences of communicable diseases, especially, among youth, like diarrheal diseases, upper respiratory tract infections, hearing disorders, dengue fever and malaria. Mobilization of displaced persons within the country has led to socio-economic problems leading to unsafe sex, smoking and drug abuse.
How developed is the health system in Myanmar?
Little information is available on the matter. It has been difficult to address and implement various governmental health care systems due to geopolitical and socio-economic reasons, but currently the government has taken the burden of health care seriously and has initiated a National Health Policy that is currently being implemented from 2011-2016.
What are the challenges faced in such countries if you want to enhance health care?
Education and expert professional support are the cornerstone toward better health care with the support and coordination of related agencies (both governmental, private enterprises as well as NGOs) working together. It needs a concerted collective effort for change to win the hearts and minds of both the giver and the receiver.
How can a Football for Health program help improve health issues in the country?
Football being the most popular sport in Myanmar is an antidote to most unfavourable daily practices, especially in the younger population. Scientific data has shown that introduction for change is best achieved around the age of 12-14 years and football is an exceptional tool that enhances receptiveness, enthusiasm and progression toward changes in daily health habits of this population. Knowledge acquired from school, when applied in a domestic environment will influence family and those around.
Thus, football will have a positive influence beyond the school parameters and into the society at large – a low cost high output activity. Football for Health messages address the key issues that confront the youth population such as hygiene, unsafe sex, drug abuse, healthy diet, as well as the fight against malaria and dengue fever through participation in football. Football will be a healthy apolitical partner with the government agencies for a common goal and for a better future for the youth of this country. It has been the best choice and the right timing for implementation as the country opens its doors to the outside world. FIFA needs to be congratulated for this far-sighted vision that football will bring hope and change to those who need it most.