Dr. Hideto Yoshioka achieved great results in providing free medical care to poor children and supporting the training of local medical staff, in Cambodia, Laos, and particularly in Myanmer. A pediatric surgeon, he first thought of helping children with no access to medical treatment when he saw shocking news footage of starving African children. After graduating from the Faculty of Medicine at Oita University, he worked in pediatric emergency treatment in Japan for three years. Then in 1995, at the request of a Japanese NGO, he was sent to a rural city in central Myanmar. However, he was entirely on his own.
“There was no financial or personnel support, and it would all be over when my savings ran out,” he explains, but he did not lose heart. Amid tough medical work, with little time for sleep, he resolved to provide medical support imbued with the Japanese spirit of harmony (wa) and consideration (kokoro). In May 2004, he launched a volunteer-based international health organization, starting treatment in one section of a hospital in the suburbs of Mandalay, Myanmar’s second-largest city. The group now performs around 2,000 operations and 12,000 checkups every year.
At first, there were six Japanese medical staff and several locals, but by the second year there were 50 people and by the third there were 100. Today around 600–700 people participate in the project. Long-term volunteer physicians from Japan stay in Myanmar for one or two years and nurses for six months. Dr. Yoshioka says, “Since the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011, there has been a transformation in Japanese people’s attitude toward charity and a great change in Japanese medical workers.”
The proportion of Myanmar staff, which deals with such matters as training local physicians and nurses and overseeing scholarships to medical and nursing students, is rising each year. Now, about half of the staff is Japanese and half is local.
The battle for free medical treatment, which started with the solitary persistence of Dr. Yoshioka, has continued for twenty years and has received high praise in Myanmar. Dr. Yoshioka also received the Japanese Foreign Minister’s Commendation for FY2014. He has taken his personal philosophies —“First, take one step forward” and “Experience is the mother of everything”—and put them into practice. He stresses, “I want to move international medical cooperation forward with a Japanese emphasis on quality.”
President of the volunteer-based international health organization Japan Heart. Began international cooperative medical activities in 1995 and founded Japan Heart in 2004. The organization sends physicians and other volunteers from Japan to such countries as Myanmar, Cambodia, and Laos to perform checkups and operations.