Myanmar's 'tallest man' seeks medical aid abroad
By Shwe Yinn Mar Oo, AFPYANGON--“Big Zaw” has known he was different since a teenage growth spurt sent him soaring above his neighbors in a remote Myanmar village.
August 16, 2013, 12:02 am TWN
Now at 7 foot 8 inches he is believed to be the country's tallest man, and a recent rise to fame means he can finally seek treatment abroad for the health condition behind his towering height.
“My friends call me Big Zaw,” said Win Zaw Oo, who at 233 cm is significantly taller than the 168 cm (five foot six) average Myanmar man.
“I do not fit in an ordinary car. When the doctor brought me here, he had to hire a truck,” said the 36-year-old, who was given access to health care after a story about him in state media this year sparked a flurry of interest from reporters and medical experts.
He is now set to undergo surgery in Singapore for a pituitary gland tumor — which causes the body to produce excessive growth hormones — because the procedure is too advanced to be carried out in Myanmar, where the health system was left chronically under-funded by the former junta.
Win Zaw Oo, who left Myanmar on Thursday, said he was anxious about the trip.
“I have only seen a toy plane before, so I feel a bit worried about having to fly. But if it is for my health, I must do it,” he told AFP ahead of his departure, adding that he was concerned about the future costs of treatment.
His height brings day-to-day challenges.
Win Zaw Oo has gone barefoot for most of his life in his rural village in Magway region, central Myanmar, where his parents and three sisters scratch a living from growing peanuts and sesame seeds on a couple of acres of land.
While his family was able to make extra-large longyis — the sarong-like skirt worn by both men and women in Myanmar — for him, custom-made footwear was far beyond the family's modest means.
His condition also means he tires easily and is unable to hold down regular employment, although he says he can help out in village construction because he does not need a ladder.
Shy but friendly, Win Zaw Oo attracts stares when he travels, but at home people are accustomed to him.
“We see him every day in our village ... so we do not really think of him as being extraordinarily big,” said his cousin Than Htoo.
Myanmar doctors said Win Zaw Oo appeared to have stopped growing, but that his condition carried future health risks.
“He needs to be cured,” said Myatthu Mynn, part of the medical team traveling with him to Singapore on a trip funded by private donations from Myanmar and Singapore.
He explained that the procedure — which usually involves accessing the pituitary gland at the base of the brain through the nose or an incision in the mouth — is too specialized for Myanmar's hospitals.
Decades of military dictatorship in the Southeast Asian country left the vast majority of citizens without access to even basic healthcare, as the junta state focused on its military spending.
A new quasi-civilian regime took power in 2011, but medical care remains woefully inadequate.
Official figures show the state only allocated around one percent of its expenditure to healthcare in its 2011 to 2012 budget, rising to three percent in 2012 to 2013.