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A recent report on health in eastern Burma highlights the relationship between human rights abuses and the health of the area’s population, while drawing comparisons with war-torn Somalia.
The Long Road to Recovery report, released this month by the Health Information System Working Group, advocates for a structural reform of the health care system in the country’s east, and calls for a “convergence” of different actors working in health in the area.
The mortality rate of infants and children under five in eastern Burma – spurred by preventable diseases such as diarrhoea, malaria and acute respiratory infections – has been likened to that of Somalia in the Horn of Africa, a country notorious for its lack of national infrastructure.
The report draws a direct correlation between the health of individuals and families and human rights violations by the Burmese government, attributing ten percent of critical malnutrition in children to human rights deficits.
It is also stated that 10.7 percent of households reported at least one incident of human rights abuses. The most common reported rights violations are destruction and seizure of food, livestock, or crops (7.7 percent) and forced labour (3.5 percent). In particular, a loss of livelihoods severely affects food security and cripples access to healthcare, the report says.
Other pressing health issues outlined in the report include maternal and child health, including nutrition; the difficulty of accessing healthcare services due to proximity issues; and the onslaught of drug-resistant malaria.
In The Long Road to Recovery, the Burmese government is urged to facilitate the establishment of a proper health system in Burma, and the “convergence” of parallel health systems.
The report calls upon the country’s leaders to to prioritise dialogue in the country’s peace process, recognise ethnic-led health structures and systems, and to halt large-scale development projects in ethnic areas “until a full peace agreement can be reached, democratic rights guaranteed, and a decentralised federal union achieved.”
In the report’s forward, the founder of Mae Tao Clinic, based in the Thai-Burma border town of Mae Sot, and the recipient of several humanitarian awards, Dr Cynthia Maung says that health groups working in eastern Burma: “have begun to have preliminary discussions with Ministry of Health officials.”
She says: “We view future opportunities for coordination and cooperation as critical to improving health for the people of eastern Burma who have been disenfranchised as a result of decades of conflict and militarisation.
Dr Maung goes on to emphasise how the country’s health is underscored by its politics, saying: “Burma’s military continues to have significant powers under the constitution and has a mandatory 25 percent control of parliament. In the absence of constitutional reform, civil society and community-based organisations, including the ones represented in this report, are not in a position of equal partnership with the government.
“In order to build a solid foundation for a strong democracy, people must have the opportunity to be active participants in the political process at both national and local levels so that they are empowered to make a difference in their communities,” she continues.