Poor health care system plagues Myanmar

( AP ) - They travel for days though checkpoints, across dangerous roads and past Myanmar's bribe-hungry soldiers to make it to the Thai border. They're not refugees fleeing the junta - they simply want to see a doctor.

Myanmar has one of the world's worst health care systems, with tens of thousands dying each year from malaria, tuberculosis, AIDS, dysentery, diarrhea and a litany of other illnesses. While there are hospitals in the impoverished Southeast Asian nation also known as Burma, only a few can afford to pay hospital workers the various "fees" in the tightly controlled nation fueled by corruption.

"Even if you use the toilet in the hospital you have to pay money," said a 70-year-old man from Phyu Township, who journeyed two days by bus to see a doctor at the Thai border town of Mae Sot and have a cataract removed. He declined to give his name for fear of reprisals.

"They never think of improving health care," he said. "They only pull the trigger. Because they are holding the guns, we have to live like this."

Last year, more than 100,000 Burmese sought help at the 120-bed Mae Tao Clinic in Thailand, where free care is offered through local and international funding and no one is turned away. About half were migrants who work illegally near the border, while the rest live inside Myanmar and make the trip solely for medical care.

"I've been getting treatment from three hospitals inside Burma, but you have to buy everything - even medicine," said Ottoma, a 55-year-old monk who traveled three days from Shwekyin township near Yangon, the city formerly known as Rangoon, for treatment of an enlarged prostate.

"The monks have no money," he said, sitting cross-legged in a traditional maroon robe. "We only get money from people who contribute; but people are very poor."

The flow of people seeking treatment here hasn't changed much since the violent crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations in Myanmar. The peaceful protests were sparked by anger following government-imposed fuel hikes of up to 500 percent - a move that boosted the cost of everything, including health care.

The sick are issued day passes to enter Thailand, but many bribe immigration officials to stay longer for treatment ranging from land mine injuries to chronic ailments that have festered from neglect or improper care.

"Among the displaced people here, the most threatening problem is in communicable diseases," said Dr. Cynthia Maung, wearing a simple sarong and sandals.

She fled Myanmar in 1988 following a violent crackdown on student pro-democracy protests and started the Mae Tao Clinic a year later in a small house.

Today, the vast compound includes a delivery room, surgical ward and artificial limb workshop. It has a community feel, with women doing laundry as children play on swings and slides outside. But the sounds of rattling coughs and screaming babies, hungry or in pain, fill the rooms.

Many patients come too late and die in the clinic, while newborn babies and the elderly are sometimes abandoned by family who simply cannot afford to care for them, Maung said.

The situation inside Myanmar is complex and health data are often unreliable or difficult to gather, especially from restive areas of the country dominated by ethnic minorities who have been at civil war for decades.

Big killers such as tuberculosis, with nearly 100,000 new cases reported annually, plague the country of 54 million people. The AIDS virus has reached the general population, with more than 1 percent of the nation infected. While the rest of Southeast Asia has largely tamed malaria, it kills 3,000 people a year in Myanmar.

Stephen Atwood, UNICEF's regional adviser for health and nutrition in East Asia and the Pacific, says the military government does a fair job of conducting childhood immunization campaigns and routine vaccinations, but adds it's impossible to assess the health situation in many ethnic areas that are off-limits to foreigners.

Neighbors Laos and Cambodia have poor health systems that perform even worse than Myanmar's by some measures.

But in 2000, the World Health Organization ranked Myanmar's overall health care system as the world's second worst, above war-ravaged Sierra Leone.

One in three Burmese children is malnourished. About 105 per 1,000 children die before age 5 in Myanmar, compared with 19 per 1,000 in nearby Vietnam and 7 per 1,000 in the United States, according to UNICEF.

At least 360 of every 100,000 women die in childbirth, compared with 130 in Vietnam and 17 in the U.S.

Most of Myanmar's health care is funded by international sources, with the government spending only about 3 percent on health annually, compared with 40 percent on the military, according to a report published this year by researchers from the University of California, Berkeley and Johns Hopkins University.

Some countries, however, are reconsidering their aid packages. Japan, Myanmar's largest donor, announced it had canceled a multimillion-dollar grant to protest the death of a Japanese journalist who was among at least 10 people killed when troops fired into crowds of peaceful protesters during the Sept. 26-27 crackdown.

An estimated 90 percent of Burmese live on just $1 a day, and the United Nations ranks the resource-rich country among the 20 poorest in the world following decades of mismanagement under military dictatorship. Tony Banbury, the U.N. World Food Program's regional director, visited Myanmar this month and estimated at least 5 million people were going hungry. He called on donor countries not to neglect the people suffering there.

Travel restrictions, human rights abuses and the government's tight control over humanitarian organizations have forced some agencies to pull out. The Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria withdrew funding in 2005, though Australia and a number of European countries made up the difference last year.

The French arm of Doctors Without Borders left Myanmar last year and even the International Red Cross issued a rare public criticism in June, denouncing the government for forcing prisoners to serve as military porters among other human rights abuses.

"People who have no money go to a clinic and they cannot get care," said Chit Win, of the Back Pack Health Worker Team, a group that sneaks medical supplies across the border into eastern Myanmar. "Most people say the best thing to do is just wait to die."

Export of grain and legumes by Turkey to Iran down
Export of grain and legumes by Turkey to Iran down
Кazakhstan Electricity Grid Operating Company opens tender to buy batteries
Кazakhstan Electricity Grid Operating Company opens tender to buy batteries
Kazakhstan has high hopes for homegrown COVID-19 vaccine - Minister
Kazakhstan has high hopes for homegrown COVID-19 vaccine - Minister
Loading Bars
Brexit goes down to the wire: EU and UK say big differences remain
Iran expected to reduce potato production
Azerbaijan national team won silver and bronze medals at 36th European Championship in Ukraine
Diesel fuel production down in Azerbaijan
Кazakhstan Electricity Grid Operating Company opens tender to buy batteries
Export of grain and legumes by Turkey to Iran down
Turkey registers nearly 30,000 new coronavirus cases as recoveries surpass 390,000
Kazakhstan has high hopes for homegrown COVID-19 vaccine - Minister
Georgia expect stabilization of pandemic with the expansion of restrictions
Iraq reports 2,545 new COVID-19 cases, 547,215 in total
Resolution adopted by French Senate is gross violation of int'l law - Honorary Member of French Parliament
Erdoğan urges public caution against COVID-19 in Turkey amid violations
76 Iranian professors among world top 2% scientists
Monetary policy in Georgia remains tightest among CIS - Renaissance Capital
Representatives of Kyrgyzstan take part in XVIII meeting of CSTO ICMEC
Britain records 16,022 new coronavirus cases, 521 new deaths
Azerbaijani gymnasts reach finals of 36th European Championship in Rhythmic Gymnastics in Ukraine
Turkish political parties condemn French Senate’s resolution on Karabakh
World Maritime University, Georgia aim to develop maritime education, capacity-building activities
Georgia makes giant strides in transposition of energy efficiency acquis
Cash receipts from Azerbaijan to Georgia increases
Number of debit cards in Azerbaijan increases
Uzbekistan increases raisins export to Netherlands
Georgia to subsidize wheat flour price
IAEA to implement multiple projects in Georgia
Uzbekistan, Hungary consider establishing Uzbek-Hungarian Business Council
Uzbekistan confirms repayment schedules on ADB loan for solid waste cleaning
Percentage of problem loans in Azerbaijan down
Eni Turkmenistan Ltd opens tender for vehicles provision
Tree-planting campaign continues in Azerbaijan's Gubadli (PHOTO)
Azerbaijan raises commercial gas production
COVID-related quarantine may be strengthened in Kazakhstan in December
German Bundestag welcoming cessation of hostilities in Karabakh for sustainable peace
Spain names main Turkmen sectors of its interest
Iran to follow FATF-related bills
French Development Agency puts emphasis on increasing solar and wind capacity integration in Georgia
Putin to hold annual press conference via video link on December 17
Share of Austria in total import of Azerbaijan increases
Kazakhstan, Canada discuss prospects for agriculture co-op
Iranian Aras Free Trade Zone reveals its trade surplus
Modernization of primary gas treatment unit carried out at Uzbek oil field
Ambassador of Mexico meets with Azerbaijani Acting Minister of Culture
Azerbaijan supplying drinking water to liberated Shusha city (PHOTO)
Azerbaijan consistently works to strengthen regional cooperation - MFA
Azerbaijan's import of chemical products from Turkey up
Conflicts, external aggression threaten peace, security - Azerbaijani FM (PHOTO)
Azerbaijani Minister of Economy receives Qatari ambassador (PHOTO)
Iran's industrial cities work at minimum capacity
U.S. agency opens probe into 115,000 Tesla vehicles over suspension issue
Turkey discloses Istanbul Airport's ten-month passenger traffic volume
Japan ruling party proposal backs assistance for COVID-hit airlines
Iran's Social Security Organization to forgive insurance fines of employers
Elbit Systems wins Spanish Army radio deal
Putin meets RSC members to discuss Russian peacekeepers' activities in Karabakh
Uzbek metallurgical plant switches to int’l financial reporting standards
New company established in Azerbaijan's Sumgayit city
Iran to close public offices amid COVID-19
Volume of industrial lending in Azerbaijan grows
Azerbaijani 'Maestro Niyazi' dry-cargo ship repaired and tested
France-24 TV channel broadcasts reportage about liberated Fuzuli district of Azerbaijan (VIDEO)
Small state enterprises, vehicles to be auctioned in Azerbaijan
Uzbek Ministry of Finance eyes setting excise tax on sugar imports
New electronic services to be introduced in Turkmenistan's banking system
Oil bitumen imports decrease to Georgia
10M2020 cargo, passenger traffic in Turkish Esenboga Airport drops
Discovery of Turkmen scientists expected to make unique contribution to healthcare system on global scale
Azerbaijan detects 3,712 new COVID-19 cases, 1,359 recoveries
World to need at least 1.1 trillion barrels of hydrocarbons over next 20 years
Kazakhstan decreases crude petroleum oil supplies to Netherlands
Number of construction enterprises, organizations in Uzbekistan up
Central Bank of Azerbaijan reveals data on population's deposits
Georgia sees decrease in import of aviation fuel
Oil & gas industry is not at risk of being starved of capital
Nearly half of bank deposits in Azerbaijan made in foreign currency, says CBA
Turkmen Health Ministry opens tender for medical supplies purchase
Iran Parliament speaker obliges gov't to implement “People's Livelihood Protection Act” as soon as possible
Luxury hotels to be created in Nagorno-Karabakh region
Azerenerji OJSC implementing essential project in Karabakh, adjacent districts
Gold, silver prices in Azerbaijan down
Kazakhstan's Kazatomprom sees threefold increase in profits
Turkey's VP talks current defense-related projects
Iran to join several countries in coronavirus vaccine development
Cybersecurity - one of main objectives of Georgia - Energy Community Secretariat report
UNDP office in Uzbekistan to buy agricultural equipment via tender
Central Bank of Azerbaijan plans to raise funds at deposit auction
Azerbaijan's Central Bank reveals year-on-year data on lending to household sector
Facebook cryptocurrency Libra to launch as early as January but scaled back
“Investment Treaty” intensively negotiated between Georgia and Japan
ACG oil transshipment from Ceyhan terminal exceeds 190 million barrels
Turkmenistan prepares project for intellectual property system dev’t
Prime Minister Modi inaugurates RE-Invest 2020
TAP is operational and can deliver gas, says managing director
Uzbek Anti-Crisis Fund expenses up due to extended COVID-9 resistance
Ruling coalition in Germany stands for Berlin’s participation in promoting peace in Nagorno-Karabakh
Azerbaijani gymnasts in group exercises reach final of European Championship in Ukraine
Azerbaijan's labor ministry, Azermash Group LLC sign tender contract
Iran reduces imports of chemicals from Turkey
Plastic cards becoming more popular in Kazakhstan
Turkish Ombudsman Institution prepares special report on Armenia's war crimes against Azerbaijan (PHOTO)
Turkmenistan prepares project aimed at developing energy diplomacy
All news