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.”

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
July 22, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Good as Goldman: Hillary and Wall Street
Joseph E. Lowndes
From Silent Majority to White-Hot Rage: Observations from Cleveland
Paul Street
Political Correctness: Handle with Care
Richard Moser
Actions Express Priorities: 40 Years of Failed Lesser Evil Voting
Eric Draitser
Hillary and Tim Kaine: a Match Made on Wall Street
Conn Hallinan
The Big Boom: Nukes And NATO
Ron Jacobs
Exacerbate the Split in the Ruling Class
Jill Stein
After US Airstrikes Kill 73 in Syria, It’s Time to End Military Assaults that Breed Terrorism
Jack Rasmus
Trump, Trade and Working Class Discontent
John Feffer
Could a Military Coup Happen Here?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Late Night, Wine-Soaked Thoughts on Trump’s Jeremiad
Andrew Levine
Vice Presidents: What Are They Good For?
Michael Lukas
Law, Order, and the Disciplining of Black Bodies at the Republican National Convention
Victor Grossman
Horror News, This Time From Munich
Margaret Kimberley
Gavin Long’s Last Words
Mark Weisbrot
Confidence and the Degradation of Brazil
Brian Cloughley
Boris Johnson: Britain’s Lying Buffoon
Lawrence Reichard
A Global Crossroad
Kevin Schwartz
Beyond 28 Pages: Saudi Arabia and the West
Charles Pierson
The Courage of Kalyn Chapman James
Michael Brenner
Terrorism Redux
Bruce Lerro
Being Inconvenienced While Minding My Own Business: Liberals and the Social Contract Theory of Violence
Mark Dunbar
The Politics of Jeremy Corbyn
David Swanson
Top 10 Reasons Why It’s Just Fine for U.S. to Blow Up Children
Binoy Kampmark
Laura Ingraham and Trumpism
Uri Avnery
The Great Rift
Nicholas Buccola
What’s the Matter with What Ted Said?
Aidan O'Brien
Thank Allah for Western Democracy, Despondency and Defeat
Joseph Natoli
The Politics of Crazy and Stupid
Sher Ali Khan
Empirocracy
Nauman Sadiq
A House Divided: Turkey’s Failed Coup Plot
Franklin Lamb
A Roadmap for Lebanon to Grant Civil Rights for Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon
Colin Todhunter
Power and the Bomb: Conducting International Relations with the Threat of Mass Murder
Michael Barker
UK Labour’s Rightwing Select Corporate Lobbyist to Oppose Jeremy Corbyn
Graham Peebles
Brexit, Trump and Lots of Anger
Anhvinh Doanvo
Civilian Deaths, Iraq, Syria, ISIS and Drones
Christopher Brauchli
Kansas and the Phantom Voters
Peter Lee
Gavin Long’s Manifesto and the Politics of “Terrorism”
Missy Comley Beattie
An Alarmingly Ignorant Fuck
Robert Koehler
Volatile America
Adam Vogal
Why Black Lives Matter To Me
Raouf Halaby
It Is Not Plagiarism, Y’all
Rev. Jeff Hood
Deliver Us From Babel
Frances Madeson
Juvenile Life Without Parole, Captured in ‘Natural Life’
Charles R. Larson
Review: Han Kang’s “The Vegetarian”
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail