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A new report by eastern Myanmar ethnic health organizations with assistance from CPI demonstrates that recent improvements to health and access to care are under threat.
“The Long Road to Recovery: Ethnic and Community Based Health Organizations Leading the Way to Better Health in Burma” advocates structural reform of the national health care system to protect nascent improvements in eastern Myanmar’s health.
“There is no doubt there have been positive changes,” says Nobel Peace Prize nominee Dr. Cynthia Maung, founder of the Mae Tao Clinic and a co-author of the report. “But the people of eastern Burma (Myanmar) continue to face critical health challenges, and an increase in resources and support is desperately needed to scale-up health services to needed levels.”
Based on the most rigorous and large-scale research on health status currently conducted in the country — a survey of more than 6,500 households encompassing a population of more than 450,000 people in conflict-affected eastern Myanmar — “The Long Road to Recovery” highlights the effectiveness of CPI’s approach to improving health by building the skills and resources of local health workers and organizations.
For more than 15 years, CPI has worked to strengthen health services in eastern Myanmar, training health workers and helping design, implement and monitor large-scale public health programs in Myanmar’s remote, under-served and conflict-affected communities.
For the vast majority of people in eastern Myanmar, official government health facilities remain unavailable or inaccessible: 70% of the survey’s respondents accessed treatment from CPI-supported health programs, and just 8% from government facilities.
Key primary health services, supported by Community Partners International (CPI) and provided by our local partners — the Mae Tao Clinic, Burma Medical Association, Karen Department of Health and Welfare, Back Pack Health Worker Team, Karenni Mobile Health Committee, Mon National Health Committee, Shan State Development Foundation — continue to be the main source of care.
Survey results demonstrate that CPI and our local partners have made great advances in responding to local health needs in conflict-affected areas and are continuing to improve the quality, scope, and accessibility of health services in these communities.
Our partners' combined programs cover a target population of almost 500,000 people. Existing systems include a health workforce of more than 2,650 health assistants, medics, community health workers, maternal and child health workers, trained village health workers, and trained traditional birth attendants.
The report found that cease-fire agreements between the government and 14 of the 16 main armed ethnic groups led to improvements in a range of health indicators, from the assisted delivery of babies to reduced malaria infections. Nearly three-quarters of women delivering their latest child, for example, had assistance from a trained traditional birth attendant.
However, there is much more we can — and must — do in eastern Myanmar. The region's mortaility rate – spurred by preventable, treatable diseases such as diarrhea, malaria and acute respiratory infections – remains high, and has been likened to that of Somalia, a country notorious for its lack of national infrastructure.
The report found that women, infants and children in eastern Myanmar continue to be especially vulnerable to high rates of poor health and death:
In addition, the survey found that human rights violations, such as displacement, land-grabbing and abuse — while less prevalent than previous surveys — was associated with continuing rates of acute malnutrition in children, demonstrating the negative impact that human rights violations have on health outcomes and the country's still fragile peace and reform process.
“We have a long way to go in obtaining sustainable peace,” adds Mae Tao Clinic's Dr. Cynthia. “To respond to the health challenges facing eastern Burma we must capitalize on the existing infrastructure built by ethnic and community-based health organizations.”