Assure medical care and human rights in Burma
A Hawaii medical mission spent a week in Burma recently to provide medical care.
Following an extraordinary display of courage and compassion, a team of 15 doctors, nurses and other volunteers have returned home to Hawaii after a week treating victims of a humanitarian crisis in Burma. The recent demonstrations in that country should result in an international effort to combat repression and provide more access to medical care there.
By any measure, the country called Myanmar by its military junta but Burma by the democratic party that legitimately and overwhelmingly won the 1990 elections should be regarded as a humanitarian catastrophe. Police bludgeoning of monks demonstrating in August and September against a 500 percent hike in fuel prices gave pause to the Aloha Medical Mission's plans, but only briefly.
Over a seven-day period last month, the mission provided health care to about 300 Burmese patients, performing 57 major surgeries. "I want to give back, my knowledge back, to the people from Burma," Kuakini Medical Center physician Myo Nwe, a native of Burma, told the Star-Bulletin's Craig Gima, who observed the effort.
The World Health Organization ranks Burma's health care system as the world's second worst, above only war-torn Sierra Leone. Tuberculosis, the AIDS virus, malaria and other infectious diseases continue to ravage the country. Researchers from the University of California-Berkeley and Johns Hopkins University reported in June that the government spends 40 percent of its budget on the military and less than 3 percent on health care.
Last year, Senior Gen. Than Shwe, the latest leader of Burmese military regimes that go back 53 years, spent $40 million on his daughter's wedding, while $137,000 went to a nationwide program to combat AIDS, observed Chris Beyer, co-author of the report.
The health care was delivered in central Burma, to which nongovernment agencies are confined by the junta's severe travel restrictions, although greater need exists close to its borders. Those rules prompted the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria to withdraw funding from Burma in August 2005 and the French arm of Doctors Without Borders, or Medecins Sans Frontieres, to become the first international relief organization to pull out of the country four months later.
In October 2006 the junta ordered the International Committee of the Red Cross to close its field offices and prevented UNICEF from launching an $11 million campaign to give measles vaccinations to 13 million Burmese children. Measles is one of the main causes of death for the 105 per 100,000 Burmese children who die before age 5, according to UNICEF.
Several weeks earlier the Burmese Ministry of Health had agreed to allow $100 million over five years, financed by European countries and Australia, to be spent on combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, bypassing the Burmese government. A United Nations agency in charge of the fund reported some progress in the operation's opening months, but fundamental change is needed to assure adequate health care in the future.