FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Helping Improve the Burmese People’s Health

by Dr. CESAR CHELALA

Following recent events in Burma, Aung San Suu Kyi has asked that foreign governments take a more active role in increasing aid. This is the right time to support Burma’s precarious public health system as a way to improve the Burmese people’s dismal health status. This could be one of the most helpful measures the US and other governments and organizations can give the Burmese people.

Burma’s public health system has been underfunded for several years with public spending on health less than 0.5 percent of the country’s GDP. As a result, in 2000 Burma ranked as the second-worst country in the world in terms of “overall health system performance,” according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

There are wide inequities between urban and rural areas, and health services fail to cover the most peripheral regions in the country. In addition, although health care is nominally free, patients have to pay for medicines and treatment, even in hospitals and health clinics.

However, the government has recently quadrupled its health budget and has addressed lack of supplies and poor hospital conditions. At the same time, the government intends to improve doctors’ education and increase technical exchange programs with other countries.

This is a welcome change for a country that for decades has followed an isolationist policy. Such policy has turned the country into the second-poorest in the Asia-Pacific region. In 2011, the UNDP’s Human Development Index, which measures progress in terms of life expectancy, adjusted real income, and educational achievement, ranked Burma 149 out of 187 countries.

The new measures are badly needed by a population with a poor health status, reflected in tens of thousands of deaths from malaria, tuberculosis, AIDS, dysentery, cancer, and respiratory infections.

Every year, tens of thousands of Burmese travel to Thailand to seek medical care at the 120-bed Mae Tao Clinic, where services are free and nobody is turned away. Those reaching the clinic are looking for attention to a host of diseases now common in Burma.

The best assessment of the health situation in the country has been provided by the WHO Country Cooperation Strategy (CCS), which presents the direction and priority areas for the organization’s work in Burma.

Malaria continues to be the leading cause of mortality and morbidity in the country. What makes the situation even worse is that a majority of malaria infections are now highly resistant to anti-malaria drugs.

In addition, Burma is also one of 22 countries globally with the highest burden of tuberculosis (TB). Increasingly, TB patients are showing multi-drug resistance to available treatment.

Although some progress has been made in the fight against HIV/AIDS, international sanctions have hampered efforts to curb the spread of the infection. According to U.N. statistics, one quarter of a million people have been infected with HIV.

However, only a small percentage has access to anti-retroviral therapy. Among those most likely to contract the virus are intravenous drug users, sex workers, and men who have sex with men.

Burma has one of the highest adult HIV prevalence rates, following Cambodia and Thailand. According to a Doctors Without Borders’ report titled “Preventable Fate,” 25,000 Burmese died of AIDS in 2007. These deaths could have been easily prevented with anti-retroviral therapy (ART) drugs and proper treatment.

Dengue and dengue hemorrhagic fever (DHF) are now seasonal epidemics in some parts of the country, and leprosy, although no longer a serious public health problem in Burma, still needs more leprosy control activities and improved services aimed at those affected by the disease.

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular diseases (including hypertension), and cancers are increasingly becoming serious public health problems as a result of widespread risk factors, such as smoking, in the population. At the same time, malnutrition, including several micro nutrient deficiencies, continues to be a serious health concern in Burma.

The public health care system in the country is seriously under resourced, which has had a negative consequence in terms of access to and coverage of health services.

It is estimated that the government in Burma spends the smallest percentage of its GDP on health care than any other country in the world, and international donor organizations give less to Burma, per capita, than to any other country except India.

If political conditions improve in the country, it will be an opportunity to reassess the role of international aid. To be effective, aid will have to be aligned with national programs and policies, be closely monitored and respond to the technical demands suggested by the donor countries. The Burmese people’s better health will be the best achievement of these actions.

Dr. César Chelala is an international public health consultant and a co-winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award.

Dr. Cesar Chelala is a co-winner of the 1979 Overseas Press Club of America award for the article “Missing or Disappeared in Argentina: The Desperate Search for Thousands of Abducted Victims.”

Weekend Edition
February 12-14, 2016
Andrew Levine
What Next in the War on Clintonism?
Jeffrey St. Clair
A Comedy of Terrors: When in Doubt, Bomb Syria
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh – Anthony A. Gabb
Financial Oligarchy vs. Feudal Aristocracy
Paul Street
When Plan A Meets Plan B: Talking Politics and Revolution with the Green Party’s Jill Stein
Rob Urie
The (Political) Season of Our Discontent
Pepe Escobar
It Takes a Greek to Save Europa
Gerald Sussman
Why Hillary Clinton Spells Democratic Party Defeat
Carol Norris
What Do Hillary’s Women Want? A Psychologist on the Clinton Campaign’s Women’s Club Strategy
Robert Fantina
The U.S. Election: Any Good News for Palestine?
Linda Pentz Gunter
Radioactive Handouts: the Nuclear Subsidies Buried Inside Obama’s “Clean” Energy Budget
Michael Welton
Lenin, Putin and Me
Manuel García, Jr.
Fire in the Hole: Bernie and the Cracks in the Neo-Liberal Lid
Thomas Stephens
The Flint River Lead Poisoning Catastrophe in Historical Perspective
David Rosen
When Trump Confronted a Transgender Beauty
Will Parrish
Cap and Clear-Cut
Victor Grossman
Coming Cutthroats and Parting Pirates
Ben Terrall
Raw Deals: Challenging the Sharing Economy
David Yearsley
Beyoncé’s Super Bowl Formation: Form-Fitting Uniforms of Revolution and Commerce
David Mattson
Divvying Up the Dead: Grizzly Bears in a Post-ESA World
Matthew Stevenson
Confessions of a Primary Insider
Jeff Mackler
Friedrichs v. U.S. Public Employee Unions
Franklin Lamb
Notes From Tehran: Trump, the Iranian Elections and the End of Sanctions
Pete Dolack
More Unemployment and Less Security
Christopher Brauchli
The Cruzifiction of Michael Wayne Haley
Bill Quigley
Law on the Margins: a Profile of Social Justice Lawyer Chaumtoli Huq
Uri Avnery
A Lady With a Smile
Katja Kipping
The Opposite of Transparency: What I Didn’t Read in the TIPP Reading Room
B. R. Gowani
Hellish Woman: ISIS’s Granny Endorses Hillary
Kent Paterson
The Futures of Whales and Humans in Mexico
James Heddle
Why the Current Nuclear Showdown in California Should Matter to You
Michael Howard
Hollywood’s Grotesque Animal Abuse
Steven Gorelick
Branding Tradition: a Bittersweet Tale of Capitalism at Work
Nozomi Hayase
Assange’s UN Victory and Redemption of the West
Patrick Bond
World Bank Punches South Africa’s Poor, by Ignoring the Rich
Mel Gurtov
Is US-Russia Engagement Still Possible?
Dan Bacher
Governor Jerry Brown Receives Cold, Dead Fish Award Four Years In A Row
Wolfgang Lieberknecht
Fighting and Protecting Refugees
Jennifer Matsui
Doglegs, An Unforgettable Film
Soud Sharabani
Israeli Myths: An Interview with Ramzy Baroud
Terry Simons
Bernie? Why Not?
Missy Comley Beattie
When Thoughtful People Think Illogically
Christy Rodgers
Everywhere is War: Luke Mogelson’s These Heroic, Happy Dead: Stories
Ron Jacobs
Springsteen: Rockin’ the House in Albany, NY
Barbara Nimri Aziz
“The Martian”: This Heroism is for Chinese Viewers Too
Charles R. Larson
No Brainers: When Hitler Took Cocaine and Lenin Lost His Brain
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail