Health situation on Myanmar side of Thai border still dire

BANGKOK - Critical health challenges remain in post conflict areas of eastern Myanmar, with malaria, respiratory infections and diarrhoea continuing to kill people, says a report released in Bangkok on Thursday.

 The 64-page report titled "The Long Road to Recovery", by a network of field-based organisations, appealed for more international support for populations in the vulnerable areas. It was based on data from 64 townships, taken in 2013, along Myanmar's border with Thailand from Shan state in the north to Mon and Tenasserim states in the south.

The populations in these areas, most of which have suffered from decades of conflict and thus a near-total absence of government services, have long relied on their own networks, resources and resilience.

 Even with more stable conditions since cease fire agreements, government health services are thin on the ground, the report said. There also remains a trust deficit with many local communities still insecure, fearing that ceasefires may not be sustainable. 

The damage of years of conflict in remote areas, runs deep, the report pointed out.

Malaria remains the number one killer across all age groups and the second main cause of death of children below the age of five, while 16.8 per cent of children under five were determined to be suffering from malnutrition.

 Dr Cynthia Maung, an ethnic Karen from Myanmar who runs the Mae Tao clinic in Mae Sot, Thailand, presenting the details of the report, said while there had been improvement in some indices, there remained "large inequalities in access to health, education and social services" in the areas covered.

"The results clearly highlight the disparity between ethnic area of eastern Burma, and central Burma," she said, using the older name for Myanmar.

"The risk of disease and death in eastern Burma remains substantially higher than in the country as a whole," the report stated. "Malaria, diarrhoea and acute respiratory infections remain the three leading causes of death among all age groups."

"While rates of malnutrition have decreased since 2008, infant and under 5 mortality rates remain high." 

"Dramatic increases in support are necessary to address the chronic health crisis."

nirmal@sph.com.sg