A new report by NGOs indicates health conditions in conflict-affected eastern Myanmar are dire, with women and children suffering most.
According to Diagnosis: Critical, a survey of 5,754 households by health organizations working in the Thai border town of Mae Sot and others from neighbouring Myanmar, health conditions in eastern Myanmar have deteriorated due to constant conflict and persistent state neglect.
The surveyed households were primarily internally displaced persons (IDPs) “who face human rights violations committed by the Burmese army and the government – particularly forced displacement, forced labour and food insecurity,” said Mahn Mahn, secretary of the Mae Sot-based health NGO Back Pack Health Worker Team (BPHWT). “Human rights violations in eastern Burma [Myanmar] are ongoing, and this impacts health.”
“Villagers face problems getting medical assistance, and for the health workers to go to those areas is very dangerous, so health problems are becoming worse,” said Albert, who works with IDPs in eastern Myanmar for the Karen Human Rights Group. He gave only his first name for security reasons.
Under military rule since 1962, the Myanmar government for decades has conducted offensives against armed groups and related operations affecting civilians along the eastern border with Thailand. The military often uses citizens for forced labour and seizes their food and land, say activists.
Because of the unrest, at least 145,000 refugees are living in nine camps in western Thailand. Thailand has an additional estimated 1.6 million Burmese migrant labourers, according to the International Organization of Migration.
Within eastern Myanmar (covering the states of Kayah, Kayin, Mon and Shan, as well as two divisions – Bago and Thanintharyi), there are at least 446,000 IDPs, the report said, citing figures from the NGO Thailand Burma Border Consortium.
Dire health indicators
Eastern Myanmar had far worse health indicators than the country overall. In families directly affected by forced labour or displacement, children were two to three times more likely to be malnourished or die.
About 138 children out of 1,000 die before their fifth birthday, compared with the national average of 71, and 14 in neighbouring Thailand. Nearly 28 percent of under-five deaths in eastern Myanmar were caused by malaria, followed by diarrhoea (17 percent) and acute respiratory infection (15 percent), the report said.
The maternal mortality rate is 721 per 100,000 live births, three times the national rate of 240.
Although these areas are virtually closed off to larger international NGOs, the community-based health groups were able to conduct the survey with “near-exclusive access,” said Linda Smith of Planet Care/Global Health Access Program, a US NGO based in Mae Sot.
“We have these strong findings from the survey, and we have capacity to assess these communities – which means being able to implement programmes to help them,” said Smith, who helped design the survey, write the report and train the surveyors before they crossed into Myanmar with the questionnaire.
[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]