YANGON - In a country reeling from recent religious violence, a Muslim free hospital is offering a rare oasis of communal harmony, offering medical service to hundreds of Muslims, Buddhists and former political prisoners.
"I am a surgeon so my responsibility is to cure suffering patients," Tin Myo Win, the only Buddhist department head at at Yangon's Muslim Free Hospital, told Agence France Presse (AFP) on Monday, September 16.
"The policy of this hospital is not to discriminate. It does not matter whether people are rich or poor, or what religion they are," he said.
The doctor was speaking as he made a tour at Yangon's Muslim Free Hospital has been serving as a symbol of unity in a country riven by religious unrest.
The hospital started work in 1937 as the result of a campaign by young local Muslims when Burma was still running as an outpost of British India under colonial rule.
Growing over the past years, the hospital, which received more than 500 outpatients a day, offers treatments that would be beyond the reach of the poor elsewhere in Burma's desperately underfunded health system.
It now has departments specializing in surgery, obstetrics and gynecology, eyes, and psychiatry.
Treatments are free to those deemed too poor to contribute, while a small fee is charged to those able to pay.
Being a well-known former political prisoner who has for years been the personal physician for opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, doctor Myo Win said he had treated "many monks" during 21 years at the hospital.
He noted that the Muslim practice of donating 10 percent of their income to charitable causes, or Zakat, was an important source of income for the hospital.
Built on Muslim donations, the facility became a rare beacon of communal harmony in a country reeling from recent religious violence.
While the spread of religious unrest has stoked tension in the country, in which at least 250 people, mainly Muslims, were killed and more than 140,000 left homeless, people visiting the hospital in a multicultural quarter of downtown Yangon said differences should be put aside.
"I don't think about it," said Tin Tin Khaing, a Buddhist, whose 57-year-old father travelled from the Irrawaddy Delta region to have a hernia operation.
I have done business with Muslims many times in the past. I have a good friendship with them, he added.
The doctor praised the hospital which has long stood as a local symbol of tolerance and a refuge for those with nowhere else to go.
"They don't just come here because of financial problems. It is also maybe because they believe in me," the 44-year-old said.
We understand each other very well. Only those who stayed in jail know how we suffered inside for food and health. The situation inside was terrible.
Under decades of junta rule, Burmese authorities swept up hundreds of activists into the country's notorious jails, particularly those involved in mass anti-government protests in 1988 and 2007.
Political prisoners were often subjected to dire conditions, held far away from their families, treated with brutality and given no access to proper healthcare.
Many left jail in an extremely poor physical and mental state but were unable to afford treatment in state hospitals, which were also seen as hostile to the released campaigners, said Tin Myo Win.
The doctor spent three years in prison after taking part in a failed 1988 student-led uprising that also saw the rise of Suu Kyi's opposition.
After his release, he decided to join staff at the Muslim Hospital, which welcomed the detained activists.
After political reforms in 2011, former detainees are no longer shunned by state hospitals.
But old loyalties remain firm.
"The doctor is like my family member. We trust him, so we went to the hospital after we were released," said Kyaw Soe Naing, a five-time political prisoner who is now a close aide to Suu Kyi.
The doctor said he hopes the Muslim Hospital would continue to grow, wishing that other medical center follow its example.
"Whatever religion people believe in, they must receive treatment when they are sick. I want many such hospitals," he said.