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Tuesday 22nd May 2018

Burmese Healthcare

5th October 2006

05102006_burma1.jpgDoctors working along Burma's eastern borders say in a new report that ethnic minorities living there suffer some of the worst health conditions in the world.

An unconventional health care service, the Backpack Health Worker Team (BPHWT), in September released the 81-page report, 'Chronic Emergency: Health and Human Rights in Eastern Burma.'  It surveyed internally displaced people (IDPs) in eastern Burma, where Rangoon's troops are locked in a decades-old battle with ethnic rebel groups.

These border areas, it says, have been laid waste by the junta's policy of crippling the health and food distribution systems where ethnic minorities live. This continuing abuse has created a humanitarian crisis that places the health of the Karen and Karenni people on par with the people of war-ravaged Rwanda, Somalia, and Sierra Leone, the report says.

Maternal mortality rates in this region exceed those in Rwanda, while health workers cannot carry medicines to help communities.

Maternal mortality rates among these IDPs ranges from 1,000 to 2,000 deaths per 100,000 live births, compared with Somalia, where the rate is 1,100 deaths for every 100,000 live births. The rate is 990 deaths in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and 1,400 deaths in Rwanda.

The under-five mortality rate offers a similar parallel. The 'black zones' of eastern Burma suffer 221 deaths of children under five years for every 1,000 live births, the report said, compared with 283 in Sierra Leone, 260 in Angola, and 205 in the DRC.

The BPHTW has since 1998 tried to address public health in the region, with 300 members who travel in teams of two or three health workers for two-week visits at a time, spending about three days in each village. Besides reproductive health care, they offer medical assistance to victims wounded by gunfire and landmines, which also includes amputations done in bamboo-covered huts. The terrain they cover is hilly and heavily forested.

''Two of our doctors have been shot, seven have been victims of landmines,'' Dr. Cynthia Maung, a founding member of the backpack corps, said. ''In the last six months, three of our workers were arrested and jailed. One mid-wife was captured with medical supplies and was tortured by the Burmese army.''

There are close to 540,000 IDPs in Burma, more than the number of war-displaced found in other Asian countries, including Afghanistan, according to a Norwegian refugee agency.

Chris Beyrer, director of the Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg Center for Public Health and Human Rights, said the ruling junta was risking the health of the region by failing to make public health a priority.

“The Burmese junta is increasing restrictions on humanitarian assistance and public health while the health of Burmese people deteriorates, posing a widening threat to Burma and her neighbors,? said Beyrer.

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