Formerly known as Burma, Myanmar is a country in Southeast Asia nestled between India, Bangladesh, China, Laos and Thailand. While it is currently transitioning from a military government to a democracy, the following are 10 facts about life expectancy in Myanmar.
10 Facts About Life Expectancy in Myanmar
- Myanmar’s Life Expectancy: For the first of the 10 facts about life expectancy in Myanmar, the average life expectancy in Myanmar is 66.96 years. For males, the average is 65 years and for females, it is 69 years. Steadily rising since 1950, the average life expectancy was once 33.63 years. By 1990, life expectancy slowed as it only reached 56.65 years and did not exceed 60 years until 2001. Based on data collected by the United Nations, Myanmar is not projected to have an average life expectancy exceeding 70 years until almost 2040.
- Other Countries’ Life Expectancies: Myanmar’s life expectancy is lower than most of its neighbors. Compared to surrounding countries, such as China, Thailand, India and Bangladesh the average life expectancy ranges between 69 and 77 years. However, Myanmar has a relatively similar life expectancy to the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, which is at 67.27 years. This could be due to Myanmar’s changing government and tumultuous internal conflict. Unlike its neighbors, Myanmar has engaged in a civil war since it broke from British rule in 1948. In fact, it is the world’s longest ongoing civil war.
- Myanmar’s Internal Conflict: These disparities in life expectancies between Myanmar and other Asian countries could be due to its internal conflict. In Myanmar, there is a constant struggle for power in the government with the military primarily seizing control and ending rebellions since the country gained independence in 1948. Among this political struggle is an ethnic one; the Buddhist population (which makes up 90 percent of Myanmar’s total population) targets minority religious groups, specifically the Rohingya, a Muslim minority group. While there have always been tensions between ethnic groups in Myanmar, violence did not escalate until 2016. Thousands of Rohingya are fleeing Myanmar to Bangladesh because of persecution, extreme violence and borderline ethnic cleansing by Myanmar’s security forces. People do not know much about the death toll in Myanmar but BBC reports that the violence resulted in the killings of at least 6,700 Rohingya a month after violence broke out in August 2017. People burned at least 288 Rohingya villages since then and nearly 690,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh. Myanmar’s rapid population decline and lowered life expectancy may be due to either genocide or the fleeing of many of its civilians.
- Rising Life Expectancy: Despite the ongoing civil war in Myanmar, life expectancy is rising. One of the greatest links to health and life expectancy is the standard of living. According to a study by the World Bank, “the proportion of the population living under the national poverty line halved from 48.2 percent in 2005 to 24.8 percent in 2017.” More people are now able to afford health care and medical treatments, allowing for the rise in life expectancies. Additionally, as poverty declines, the Myanmar government is devoting more resources to improving health care. Myanmar has specifically targeted malaria. In a study by the World Health Organization, in Myanmar, “malaria morbidity and mortality has declined by 77 percent and 95 percent respectively by 2016 compared to 2012. The country is moving forward as per the National Strategic Plan aiming for malaria elimination by 2030.” By abiding by the National Strategic Plan, Myanmar was able to successfully reduce malaria in the country and boost life expectancy.
- Reducing Poverty: Myanmar and various international powers are making efforts to reduce poverty in the country. In April 2017, the World Bank approved a $200 million credit for a First Macroeconomic Stability and Fiscal Resilience Development Policy Operation. The purpose of this is to help Myanmar achieve economic stability and reduce poverty. It would also allow greater access to public services, such as electricity and health care resources. In addition, China agreed to assist in reducing poverty in rural areas of Myanmar in February 2018. Rural Myanmar has higher poverty rates than in urban centers (38.8 percent compared to 14.5 percent in towns and cities). The project from China includes infrastructure development and vocational training, which will implement better roads and agricultural techniques. With these efforts, poverty is in decline and quality of life rises, allowing for people to live better and longer lives.
- Access to Electricity: People across Myanmar are gaining access to electricity. According to the World Bank, 69.815 percent of the population had access to electricity in 2017, as opposed to 55.6 percent in 2016. In 2015, both the government of Myanmar and the World Bank developed a National Electrification Plan that will achieve universal electricity by 2030. To do this, the World Bank has given Myanmar a $400 million credit to launch this plan throughout the country. Myanmar has already exceeded the goals set in 2015. One goal was to have 1.7 million households connected to electricity by 2020. Currently, 4.5 million households have electricity. Because of this and the decline of poverty, more households can obtain home appliances as well as other consumer goods like cell phones and computers. While these are not direct causes of rising life expectancy, they do indicate that people in Myanmar are gaining a better quality of life, which can attribute to living longer lives.
- Health Care: Myanmar consistently ranks among the worst health care in the world. Myanmar citizens pay for most health care resources out of pocket. Only 600,000 of 53.7 million people in Myanmar have health insurance, the Social Security Scheme. There are shortages across the country in human resources for health. There are only 61 doctors per every 100,000 people in Myanmar. There are not many medical schools available and therefore a lack of other health professionals like pharmacists, technicians and bioengineers. Many of the current doctors in Myanmar feel overworked and burnt out of the profession. The lack of many resources can contribute to lower life expectancies.
- Leading Causes of Death: Without access to health care, diseases become the leading cause of death in Myanmar. Non-communicable diseases cause 68 percent of deaths in Myanmar. COPD, stroke, ischemic heart disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease are some of the leading causes of death in Myanmar. However, preventable diseases are in decline. Tuberculosis, HIV and lower respiratory infections have decreased as leading causes of death. Even though access to health care is limited, the quality has improved overall, allowing for people to fight off these infections and live longer.
- Improving Health Care: The Myanmar government is slowly improving health care. Unfortunately, government spending on health care is one of the lowest in the world at 5 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). However, studies by the World Bank shows that this percentage has increased over time. In 2011, the Myanmar government only spent 1.687 percent of its GDP on health care, the year Myanmar began its transition to democracy. Since 2013, Myanmar began to implement more policies devoted to national health care. The government went from spending 2.11 percent on health care in 2013 to 5.03 percent in 2014, making health care more affordable and available for mothers and children. Myanmar also reduced the number of medical students to ensure a better quality of education. The severe lack of government investment in health care makes health resources difficult to access by the population, which one can attribute to the lower life expectancies, but it is clear that Myanmar is taking steps in the right direction.
- International Support for Health Care: There is a lot of international support for health care in Myanmar. Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere (CARE) has worked with Myanmar since 1995 and has helped improve community health services. It also provides women valuable information on sexual and reproductive health. The Japanese International Cooperation Agency has also worked on special projects in Myanmar since 2000, most notably creating a standard for sign language and providing teachers. Additionally, the World Health Organization has also worked with the Myanmar government to set goals for their health care. The WHO assisted in drawing up Myanmar’s Health Vision 2030. Further, the World Bank provided a $200 million loan to Myanmar for an Essential Package of Health Services. Much of the international support is at local levels; it is up to the Myanmar government to provide support across the entire country.
As evidenced by the 10 facts about life expectancy in Myanmar, several circumstances could be contributing to the lower life expectancy of the country. However, despite the long and winding path ahead, it is clear that life expectancy is rising as living conditions continue to slowly improve.
– Emily Young