Burmese healthcare: a gaping hole6th August 2007
Burma, which has been ruled for nearly five decades by a secretive military regime, is now incapable of responding adequately to infectious disease threats. The government and army habitually mount attacks on ordinary people, abusing their human rights.
Meanwhile, the junta has been closing its doors to more and more international non-government groups, making it progressively harder to reach those most in need.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) recently hit out at violations of international humanitarian law committed against civilians and detainees by the military government in Burma, which is also known as Myanmar.
Among the abuses it reported were the use of detainees as porters for the armed forces and many acts of violence committed against civilians living along the Thai-Burma border.
The ICRC said had previously been permitted to visit hundreds of detainees in more than 70 prisons and labour camps and worked with the authorities to improve the water supply, accommodation, and provision of health care, leading to a 50% fall in mortality rates among prisoners.
But the organisation has been barred from prisons and labour camps since 2005, and reports say conditions are deteriorating.
This has also prevented the ICRC from conducting independent field trips to areas of conflict, and from delivering aid to civilians according to strictly humanitarian, neutral, and apolitical criteria.
According to Carla Haddad, spokesperson for the ICRC at its headquarters in Geneva, the ICRC's activities have been drastically scaled down to a few limited projects in the field of physical rehabilitation for amputees and mine victims.
The military government, which has ruled the country since 1962, has severely restricted the movement of international aid agencies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) with the result that some have had to leave the country despite its many health problems.
Burma has one of the highest infection rates of TB in the world, reporting around 97,000 cases annually. HIV is spreading rapidly among young people and high-risk groups, with 25,000 new infections every year.
With about 15% of Burma's 52 million population lacking secure access to food, around a third of the country's children suffer from malnutrition, and one in 10 children dies before the age of five.
Almost everyone is at risk of contracting malaria.
But the government spends less than US$1 a head on health and education annually, with 40% of the annual budget taken up by the country's 450,000-strong army.
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