BURMA: Women and Children Bear Brunt of Health Crisis in Eastern Burma

Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Independent Catholic News
South Eastern Asia
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Human Rights

Women and children bear brunt of health crisis in eastern Burma | Burman. diagnosis, Thai Children's Trust
A new report released today reveals that the health of populations in conflict-affected areas of eastern Burma, particularly women and children, is amongst the worst in the world, a result of official disinvestment in health, protracted conflict and the abuse of civilians.

The report Diagnosis: Critical, based on a survey by community health organisations of over 27,000 people in eastern Burma, shows that over 40% of children suffer from malnutrition and 60% die from preventable disease. One in fourteen women is infected with malaria, one of the highest rates of infection in the world.

One in seven children in eastern Burma will die before age five, almost double Burma's official figures, which are amongst the worst in the world. The maternal mortality ratio is triple the official national figure.

Amongst surveyed populations, almost one third had experienced human rights abuses in the preceding year, especially forced labour and displacement. These abuses serve as major drivers of the health crisis as children in displaced families were three times more likely to suffer from acute malnutrition and 60% more likely of suffering from diarrhea. The odds of children dying before age one were doubled in households forced to provide labor.

“The inability of the peoples of eastern Myanmar to enjoy basic rights is killing them,” said Dr. Sriprapha Petcharamesree of Thailand's Mahidol University. “However, these realities are not confined to Myanmar alone as the burden of these abusive policies is borne by members of ASEAN and beyond”

In the absence of state-supported health infrastructure, community-based groups are working to improve access to health services in their areas.

Dr Cynthia Maung, a leading physician amongst indigenous health providers, said: “It is a crime that so many in eastern Burma, particularly women and children, are dying of preventable and treatable diseases. We are doing what we can to help, but without an end to the regime's abuses, this health crisis will continue.”

The report findings are further evidence for the urgent need for a Commission of Inquiry to investigate Crimes against Humanity in Burma. At the same time, ongoing community efforts must be supported to continue saving lives in eastern Burma.

Andrew Scadding Director of the Thai Children's Trust commented: "Not many people realise that the government of Burma spends about 47% of its income on its military. Burma has not fought a foreign war against since the Japanese left in 1945 and the British in 1948. The vast expenditure on the military is funding a war on its own people. The results are quite horrifying. There is serious concern that the forthcoming election in Burma may be followed by a very severe crackdown on the ethnic minorities living along Burma's eastern border with Thailand, which is already host to more than a million Burmese refugees."