Myanmar Partners in Policy and Research (MPPR)

Health in Myanmar

Khin Mar Aye is a 16 year-old girl and pregnant. She is pale and anemic, and her baby is in the breach position. She requires skilled delivery at a qualified health facility. But her mother in-law does not want her to go to a health center for delivery. She does not trust doctors and facilities in faraway cities. Besides, it would cost the entire household income for a few months for transportation, food, and fees. Instead, the mother in-law forbids Khin Mar Aye to eat meat, a traditional practice for pregnant women in villages and plans to bring her to a local traditional birth attendant who has had no formal training in dealing with high-risk pregnancies. There are many girls like Khin Mar Aye who are at risk but have no access to health care services in Myanmar.

Despite rapid political and economic changes in Myanmar, children and their families continue to suffer from a lack of basic health care. The country has been mismanaged under the military dictatorship for half a century, and more than a quarter of its 55 million people live in poverty. For their health care, less than $1 per person had been allocated in the national budget till recently. Newborn, infants, and under 5 mortality rates remain the highest in SE Asia, and more than 90 % of pregnant women and 70% of children in coastal and delta areas suffer worm infestations that can cause malnutrition. Tuberculosis is at nearly triple the global rate, and malaria-related deaths are the highest in the region. The country remains one of the most difficult to receive HIV treatment.

The current political shift provides valuable opportunities for health care improvement. As part of the progress towards a more democratic society, the government has committed to increase social sector spending including health, education, and social welfare. Economic reforms are underway. The changing political and economic landscape in Myanmar is making both profit and non-profit investments in the country increasingly meaningful and possible.

However, the country lacks vital information necessary for investments. One of the cumulative effects of lack of resources manifests as a scarcity of available information about the country. Public and private institutions remain under-developed, and those interested in health investment in Myanmar often find it difficult to gather accurate information. Available data and research are too sparse to develop policy priorities and resources allocation. Information at the sub-national level is even less available.

Information as a Priority

One of the priorities for effective health programming in the country remains information acquisition related to health policies, care and practices. Making accurate information, particularly of local areas, has never been more important as the political system becomes decentralized, and decision making authority at the township level of planning and budgeting shifts to local States and Divisions.