Instead of celebrating the Myanmar New Year and Thingyan holidays, this year’s April marked the commencement of work from home policies and temporary shutdowns for many SMEs. While this may be a daunting time for many companies, we want to take a moment to acknowledge businesses that are supporting frontline sectors amidst the global COVID pandemic.
As the threat of a full-on coronavirus outbreak becomes increasingly real, Myanmar’s healthcare system is confronted with its inadequacies and the need for digital transformation in the healthcare and other industries is being recognized by many business owners. We spoke with Zaw Min Tun, CEO of MyanCare telemedicine platform and Enterprise accelerator alumni to discuss how COVID-19 has influenced Myanmar’s digital healthcare sector.
“Similar to people’s reaction to e-commerce, perceptions towards telemedicine has also improved,” commented Zaw Min. Between small hospitals and clinics shutting down and widespread fear of getting infected at larger hospitals housing COVID patients, many patients now perceive telemedicine platforms such as MyanCare to be the safest way to consult with general practitioners and specialists.
“Since the outbreak reached Myanmar, we’ve seen our average daily call rate increase by eleven-fold,” Zaw Min added. As digital literacy in Myanmar remains low, MyanCare has also seen an influx of requests to consult with doctors via social media channels such as Facebook and Viber. In response, MyanCare has been increasing their customer service efforts on social media to support patients with low digital literacy. Despite challenges in hiring new staff and doctors, MyanCare has added 20+ doctors to their app platform and pediatric call center to meet the surge in demand.
Beyond increasing their operational capacity, MyanCare has also released some COVID related videos on their social media platforms to raise awareness. However, as COVID awareness is being tackled by many other organizations, MyanCare will continue to focus their efforts on helping patients access general healthcare consultations without leaving their homes.
Myanmar Innovative Life Sciences
Beyond the healthcare sector, the COVID-19 outbreak has also highlighted the importance of livestock and food safety, an underappreciated sector especially in Myanmar. One of few businesses operating in this sector is Enterprise accelerator graduate, Myanmar Innovative Life Sciences (MILS), a biotech company manufacturing veterinary probiotics for livestock farmers and providing laboratory services and food safety products to agri-food producers.
When asked how the global pandemic has impacted the local food safety industry, Kyaw Thu Htet, CEO of MILS noted that products for hygiene monitoring have become increasingly popular. He attributed this to a greater awareness of hygiene practices since the outbreak. “The focus is currently on the safety and testing of essential foods such as livestock and water,” Kyaw Thu Htet added. As the pandemic spreads globally, MILS has observed many companies put product research and development initiatives of non-essential foods on hold.
Some key challenges the company is facing under the COVID economy includes distributing their probiotics through the currently fragmented logistic chains and the lack of clear regulations from the government. “Shops and supermarkets were scheduled to reopen for business on April 20th, yet government rules and regulations were not published until the night of the 19th,” the entrepreneur explained.
Since local retail giants such as City Mart Holdings Limited are testing their products with MILS, their testing laboratory in Insein, a township in Yangon that has been heavily hit by COVID, has been kept open. “To protect our technicians and reduce their contact with others, we are providing them with transport to and from work.” Kyaw Thu Htet further added that MILS is also picking up test samples directly from customers instead of having them delivered.