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Health crisis in eastern Burma: NGO survey

(Mizzima) – A widespread public health emergency exists in the decades-old conflict zones in eastern Burma, says a health report released by the Ibis Reproductive Health group.

Civilians flee fighting between units of a Democratic Karen Buddhist Army breakaway brigade and the Burmese Army in eastern Burma in 2010. Photo: MizzimaIts consequences include maternal death rates that far surpass the rates in Thailand and Burma as a whole, leaving women in eastern Burma with the worst pregnancy outcomes anywhere in Asia. The group’s findings were released last week.

According to Dr. Angel Foster of Ibis and the University of Ottawa, “Our report finds that millions of Burmese and ethnic minorities both inside Burma and along the Thai border have limited or no access to family planning, safe abortion, and general reproductive health care. The toll on women has been particularly severe.”

Negative effects include high numbers of unplanned pregnancies, she said, and high rates of maternal mortality and unsafe abortions.

“In fact, post-partum hemorrhage and unsafe abortion are the leading causes of maternal death and injury,”

she said. “The absence of health care infrastructure inside eastern Burma, as well as for those Burmese living illegally as migrants in Thailand, has produced a kind of reproductive health ‘perfect storm.’”

She said denial of health care has been an official policy of the Burmese military in ethnic areas, where women and men, especially adolescents, know little about family planning practices and voluntary sterilization.

Populations that are on the run or outside their home countries are often unable to gain access to reproductive healthcare, say health workers.

Without skilled birth attendants or contraception, complications from unsafe abortions and post-partum hemorrhage are common along the Thai-Burmese border, where there are more than 150,000 Burmese refugees, according to the report.

Nationwide, only 37 percent of women gave birth with a trained birth attendant in 2007, according to the most recent government data reported to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Despite the fact that rape and sexual violence are extensive problems within both the conflict zones of eastern Burma and in migrant communities in Thailand, she said the study found that the few health workers that do exist generally lack the knowledge and supplies to dispense critical medicines like emergency contraceptive pills, which can prevent pregnancy after sexual assault.

“Even within refugee camps inside Thailand, leaders and organizations working there often adopt policies that prevent unmarried people from accessing family planning information or supplies,” she said. “ Finally, abortion is illegal in Burma unless a woman’s life is at risk and restricted in Thailand.

A consultant with Ibis, Cari Siestra, said, “Our hope is that the new Burmese government will someday make it possible for more organizations to provide aid and resources to the people in eastern Burma where outside groups are currently banned. The time has come to rebuild the health and human rights of the millions of men, women, and children affected by this conflict.”

For more information on the report, go to
Last Updated ( Tuesday, 14 February 2012 16:25 )  

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