The Rohingya Refugees: What to Know and International Response
According to the U.N., the country bordering Laos to the east and Bangladesh to the west is called Myanmar, but to the U.S. and U.K., it is Burma. Its name is just one source of the conflict that has plagued the country for years; another is regarding relations between the government and the Rohingya, a Muslim minority group living in the Rakhine region. After Myanmar’s independence in 1948, the Rohingya people in the Rakhine region became stateless and the Myanmar government refused to give them citizenship. The animosity between the Rohingya and Myanmar’s government continued to grow until the group experienced exclusion altogether from the national census in 2014. In 2017, the Rohingya faced a crisis that forced them to seek help from other nations and become refugees.

Background Information on Rohingya Refugees

In August 2017, the perpetuated institutional discrimination against the Rohingya hit its limits when the Burmese military launched a campaign of targeted violence. In the first month after violence broke out, at least 6,700 Rohingya were killed and 300 Rohingya villages were burned. As a result, an estimated 740,000 Rohingya were displaced out of Myanmar’s Rakhine region and into Bangladesh. Today, more than 900,000 Rohingya still live in Bangladesh.

Upon arriving in Bangladesh, Rohingya refugees found shelter in refugee camps that are now some of the largest in the world. Due to the pace at which mass numbers of Rohingya became refugees. Camps did not have adequate resources including shelter, food, clean water and medical facilities. Many refugees have also become traumatized after witnessing the acts of violence in the Burmese military campaigns. The U.S. State Department now deems the actions as ethnic cleansing.

US Humanitarian Assistance

Since the outbreak of violence in 2017, the U.S. has contributed $669 million in humanitarian assistance to the Rohingya refugees. According to USAID, this funding goes toward addressing the needs of Rohingya refugees including emergency shelter, food, health services, psychological support, education, water and sanitation. Additionally, the U.S. funding aims to support programs that will improve disaster preparedness and education for Rohingya in Bangladesh.

With this assistance, the U.S. also aims to augment existing systems and programs that provide relief to refugees. For instance, the increased number of vouchers that are going to Rohingya refugees should allow them to buy food in local markets. Furthermore, the U.S.’s push for educational programs for refugees should yield more access to better economic opportunities in Bangladesh.

US Diplomatic Stance

The U.S. State Department has consistently and publicly condemned the actions of the Burmese military against the Rohingya. It also stated a commitment to justice and accountability on behalf of the Rohingya people. Furthermore, the State Department urges Myanmar to formally acknowledge the acts of injustice and violence. It calls on other nations to support this stance as well. In 2018, the U.S. imposed sanctions on four Myanmar military and police commanders and two army units for their human rights abuses against the Rohingya. The Myanmar government did not respond to this stance. As a result, the U.S. imposed more sanctions on a high-ranking general and three senior officers in 2019. The U.S. State Department is also working with international organizations to encourage Myanmar to adopt conditions that would eventually allow Rohingya refugees to return to their homes.

After the outbreak of violence in Myanmar, the U.N. Human Rights Council established the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar in March 2017 to investigate and make conclusions concerning the extent of human rights abuses committed. Its findings conclude that Myanmar committed crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide against the Rohingya.

With Myanmar’s lack of indication that the country will acknowledge the violence the government committed against the Rohingya, almost 1 million Rohingya remain in refugee camps in Bangladesh. The international response has strongly condemned Myanmar’s government and offered humanitarian assistance. However, more permanent plans for the Rohingya refugees will likely need to occur soon. The U.S.’s push for more education in camps is one example of a positive step in the direction toward relief for the Rohingya. In addition, the U.S. along with other nations and international organizations should continue to develop these programs with further humanitarian assistance.

Isabel Serrano
Photo: Flickr

Orphanages in MyanmarMyanmar, previously known as Burma, is located in Southeast Asia, neighboring countries such as Thailand and Laos. Unfortunately, poverty in Myanmar has risen in recent years. As of 2017, roughly 25% of adults live in poverty. Additionally, The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reports that more than 50% of children are impoverished. Due to the rising poverty rate, many adults are unable to support children. They must give them up for adoption or abandon them, creating a large influx of orphans needing shelter. The Myanmar Times reports that in 2018, there were 280 orphanages in Myanmar, many of which had to be newly established, and an estimated 36,000 orphans. That number continues to grow.

Inspiration for Standing With Orphans

Thomas Whitley of Mooresville, Indiana created The Standing With Orphans Foundation in 2012. Whitley explains that his inspiration for starting the project began when he adopted his daughter from China in 2007. He told The Borgen Project that this was his “first insight into orphanages.” Later, a friend of Whitley’s took him to his village in Myanmar to see the orphanages’ conditions there as well. Afterward, his commitment to founding Standing With Orphans was further solidified, and several years later, it came to fruition.

How Standing With Orphans Operates

Food in Myanmar is scarce and often expensive due to natural disasters and trouble with the current economy. Therefore, Standing With Orphans’ main goal is to bring bags of rice and livestock, such as chickens and pigs, to the orphanages. Whitely explained to The Borgen Project that he acquires funds through The Morgan County Community Foundation via the Standing With Orphans website. He withdraws from their allocated funds three times a year and sends it to the orphanages.

The money the organization supplies will typically buy 1,500 to 2,000 pounds of rice. The rice provided through Standing With Orphans allows orphanages in Myanmar to keep the children and workers well-fed. Along with supplying rice, in the past 2 years, Whitely has sent extra funds for buying chickens and pigs. Not only does this livestock give the orphanages a wider variety of food, but Whitley also pointed out that some orphanages have been breeding their pigs and selling them and their piglets as a source of income.

Whitley has also helped to fund solar power equipment installation, pay for school fees, and build two orphanages. While he is more than happy to contribute to various other projects such as these, he reiterated that “feeding the kids will always be the goal.” With around 50% of children living in rural, poor areas of Myanmar dying due to malnutrition in 2017, supplying food is rightly the top-priority for the foundation.

Progress and Plans for the Future

When Whitley first started working in Myanmar, he worked with only 1 orphanage. Today, he helps bring food and livestock to 14 orphanages. Whitely continues to donate and is hopeful to take another trip back to Myanmar this fall to personally deliver rice and livestock to the orphanages. While he is there, he also wants to do what he can to help with any projects they might have. Through his dedication and the donations from Standing With Orphans, Thomas Whitley and his family have greatly helped children in need. The orphanages in Myanmar that he supports were in poor condition, but now they can properly care for hundreds of children.

– Olivia Eaker
Photo: Pixabay

Healthcare in Myanmar
Myanmar, also known as the Union of Burma, is a parliamentary republic in Southeast Asia. Once a formal colony of the British Empire, Myanmar gained its independence from the British Commonwealth in 1948. Shortly after, the Burmese government became a military dictatorship. Composed of multiple ethnic groups, independence has given rise to some armed conflicts in the mountainous border regions. These racial tensions have also led to ongoing accusations against the Burmese government for the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya people, the Muslim ethnic minority of Myanmar.

Healthcare in Myanmar demands the attention of the Myanmar government. One of the worst healthcare systems throughout the world, the need for improvement in the system is paramount. This article will discuss the current state of healthcare, as well as the steps the government has taken to improve its healthcare system.

The Current State of Healthcare

The World Health Organization’s 2000 report “Measuring Overall Health System Performance for 191 Countries” ranked 191 countries’ health system performance by the health systems performance index. In the report, Myanmar received 0.138/1, which ranked it the second-worst performing healthcare system in the world, only exceeded by Sierra Leone. Many who criticize the poor state of healthcare in Myanmar hold Myanmar’s government responsible. In 2012, for example, the government spent $2.97 billion, 3.71% of the country’s GDP, in military spending, while only 2.32% of the country’s GDP was allocated to healthcare for its citizens.

This low spending on healthcare means that getting necessary medical treatment is a challenge for many people in Myanmar. For those who seek medical attention, the majority of the incurred medical fees are out-of-pocket expenses. Although the Myanmar government implemented an equal-opportunity healthcare scheme, the limitation of medical coverage is apparent. In 2012, for example, 92.7% of total healthcare expenditures in Myanmar were out-of-pocket expenses. The financial burden of medical treatment can be a significant barrier for the impoverished.

Furthermore, Myanmar is facing a shortage of medical professionals. A 2019 study found that 13 out of 15 Myanmar regions were below the WHO recommended ratio of 1 doctor per 1,000 citizens. While the number of health workers has been increasing, the number of medical doctors has gradually declined since 2006. This disparity widened when researchers compared the state of healthcare between rural areas and urban areas.

Recent Improvements

There are signs of improvement in Myanmar’s healthcare, however. The overall life expectancy in Myanmar is increasing at a steady rate. Life expectancy in Myanmar, which was 60 in 2000, increased to 66.8 years old in 2018. The Myanmar government’s increased healthcare spending may have contributed to this increase, as the government’s healthcare expenditure rose from 2.321% in 2012 to 4.659% in 2017. Myanmar’s Ministry of Health’s Vision 2030 aims to further improve funding, facilities, medical supplies, health personnel and service capacity by 2030.

 

Healthcare in Myanmar is characterized by a lack of government funding and unequal distribution of health workers among Myanmar’s populace. These persistent issues significantly impact the impoverished, who are less likely to be able to afford out-of-pocket medical expenses. Fortunately, the reformed Myanmar government is aware of the issues and has committed to improving the country’s healthcare system.

YongJin Yi
Photo: Flickr

Political Prisoners in Burma
Violence and instability have racked Burma in recent years and the Burmese government’s brutal persecution of the Rohingya people has driven much of this. During this conflict, authorities have imprisoned many nonviolent activists and journalists for speaking out against the government of Burma. Unfortunately, this inhumane and unjust treatment of political prisoners in recent years is a continuation of a historical trend of human rights abuses that the Burmese government perpetrated.

Recently, U.S. lawmakers have begun to take a legislative response to Burma’s treatment of political prisoners. In July 2019, Senator Ed Markey introduced the Burma Political Prisoners Act to the Senate with Senator Marsha Blackburn as a cosponsor. The Act primarily seeks to offer various forms of assistance to Burmese prisoners of conscience, and also has sections dealing with child soldiers and freedom of the press. In order to understand what this bill would do and why it is so important, it will be useful to take a look at the historical background of political prisoners in Burma.

Prisoners of Conscience in Burma

While Burma is a country that has always struggled with implementing a stable democracy and promoting free speech, a particularly brutal government led-campaign of killings and arrests of protestors took place in 1988. Since 1962, general Gen Ne Win and his Burma Socialist Programme Party, the only political party allowed in Burma’s government, led the country. In order to protest the repressive regime, student activists organized a nationwide general strike that took place on August 8, 1988, in what people came to know as the 8888 Uprising. The protests prompted a brutal backlash in which government forces killed thousands of protestors and arrested thousands more.

Following the 8888 Uprising, Burma’s military leaders formed a junta known as the State Law and Order Restoration Council or SLORC. In 1989, SLORC declared martial law within the country and arrested thousands of people. The council then became the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) in 1997 and began arresting thousands of members of the National League for Democracy (NLD), an opposition party led by Aung San Suu Kyi. In 2007, a protest movement of Buddhist monks against the ruling SPDC also resulted in hundreds of arrests.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD party won a landslide victory in national elections in 2015 and officially came to power in 2016. Kyi, who became Burma’s State Counselor, a position akin to Prime Minister, had campaigned promising to promote human rights and democracy within the country and promised not to jail people for their political beliefs. However, groups such as the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners have documented that since the Kyi took office in 2015, at least 35 political prisoners have received convictions. In fact, the AAPP counted 42 percent more political prisoners in 2015 than the year before.

The Burma Political Prisoners Assistance Act

Senator Ed Markey introduced the Burma Political Prisoners Assistance Act on July 10, 2019, and Senator Marsha Blackburn co-sponsored it. Since Senator Markey is a Democrat and Senator Blackburn is a Republican, this bill represents a newfound bipartisan statement of policy regarding political prisoners in Burma. The bill includes a variety of provisions aimed at assisting political prisoners in the country, including:

  • A statement of policy that supports Burma’s transition to a “democratic, peaceful, and prosperous state” calls on Burma to immediately and unconditionally release all political prisoners and urges Burma to repeal laws used to persecute those who speak out against the government.

  • A requirement for the Secretary of State to provide various kinds of support for civil society groups that work to secure the release of political prisoners. These forms of State Department assistance include providing support for the documentation of human rights abuses with respect to political prisoners in Burma and supporting travel costs, legal fees and post-incarceration mental health and career opportunities for former political prisoners and their families.

  • A specification in the U.S. legal code regarding the definition of prisoners of conscience.

  • “The delegation of specific United States mission staff who will observe trials in politically motivated cases.”

  • The bill also includes a section condemning Burma for its use of child soldiers and specifically calls for the release of the child soldier Aung Ko Htwe.

Conclusion

The bill in its current form has gone to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which will debate it. It is unclear whether the bill will make it out of committee, or if it has a chance to pass if the Senate as a whole considers it for a vote.

The Borgen Project reached out to Senator Blackburn for a comment. She stated, “The people of Burma deserve to live in a nation where speaking freely does not result in political imprisonment. Last month, Senator Markey and I introduced legislation that will provide the State Department with more tools to advocate for democracy and provide aid. I ask my colleagues in the Senate to stand in solidarity with the people of Burma by swiftly passing this legislation.”

Given the grave human rights situation in Burma with respect to prisoners of conscience, it is paramount for the Senate to deliver a comprehensive, bipartisan response.

– Andrew Bryant
Photo: Flickr

10 Facts about Myanmar Child Soldiers
Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, might be on its way to achieving democracy but it is still far away from achieving a stellar record when it comes to human rights. This becomes especially evident in the case of child soldiers.

In this article, the top 10 facts about Myanmar child soldiers will be presented, one of the biggest problems this nation is currently facing.

Top 10 Facts About Myanmar Child Soldiers

  1. According to Human Rights Watch, Myanmar has the highest number of child soldiers in the world. Children are army members of both confronted sides- the national army as well as rebel groups in the ethnic minority regions outside the capital of Yangon. Roughly 350,000 soldiers make up the Burmese army with an estimated 20 percent of them being child soldiers.
  2. The children are usually taken against their will from public areas, such as parks and train stations in their town. They are often abducted and forced to be conscripted. If they refuse, they are threatened with jail time.
  3. After the 2008 Cyclone Nargis hit Myanmar, many families were separated and many identification documents were destroyed or damaged. This made easier for the army recruiters to prey on the vulnerable children, particularly orphans since there is no one to identify and protect them.
  4. One of the examples of exploitation of children for army purposes can be seen in the Northern Rakhine state. It has been verified that 53 boys have been used by the Border Guard Police for various purposes that include maintaining the camps, as well as constructing and carrying equipment.
  5. The largest ethnic opposition groups, the United Wa State Army, has the largest number of forcible child conscripts. Another notorious group, the Kachin Independence Army, is the only military group in Burma that recruits girls.
  6. Boys as young as 12 are forced to fight and to commit human rights violations against the civilians that they are made to round up. This includes setting villages on fire and carrying out extrajudicial killings.
  7. Human Rights Watch has urged the Burmese government as well as all opposition ethnic rebel groups that forcibly recruit children under the age of 18 to stop the practice and release all current child soldiers. It has also called for these state and non-state actors to cooperate with international organizations such as UNICEF.
  8. In June 2012, the Burmese government signed a Joint Action Plan with the government and armed groups to take steps in order to reintegrate the child soldiers into civilian life. The plan also entailed allowing U.N. workers to access military bases.
  9. Since signing the deal in 2012, the government has released 924 children, according to a statement released by child protection agency UNICEF.
  10. The government has released 75 child soldiers in 2018 as part of the above mentioned process to end decades of forced recruitment of soldiers under the age of 18.

In conclusion, Myanmar’s development will be incomplete without the eradication of the problem of child soldiers. As long as the ethnic groups and the official Myanmar Army continue to use child soldiers to fight in their wars, the twin path of democracy and development are still a long way off.

Maneesha Khalae
Photo: Flickr

Burma Human Rights and Freedom Act of 2017The Burma Human Rights and Freedom Act of 2017, a bill focused on promoting democracy and human rights in Burma, was recently introduced in the United States Senate.

While Burma has taken steps towards becoming a full democracy, the country operates under a constitution in need of reform. Drafted in a convention boycotted by the National League for Democracy, Burma’s constitution fails to fully recognize the rights of ethnic minorities and guarantees the military’s nominees one-fourth of the seats in parliament. Due to the rule that more than three-fourths of parliament must agree in order to amend the constitution, this means that no changes can be made to the constitution without the support of the military.

The Rohingya

The military’s involvement in government is especially concerning for Burma’s large population of various ethnic groups, particularly the Rohingya, who they are engaged in a violent civil war with. In the past two months, over 600,000 Rohingya people have been displaced from their homes. In what is essentially an ethnic cleansing, the military is persecuting the Rohingya by burning down their homes, raping women and young girls and torturing and killing prisoners and civilians.

Many civilians have become refugees but most do not have access to basic care. Over 95 percent are drinking contaminated water and many are starving before they even cross the border. Refugee camps are growing quickly and so are the rates of malnutrition and disease, particularly in children.

The Bill’s Goal 

The goal of the Burma Human Rights and Freedom Act of 2017 is to end the suffering of the people of Burma and establish a democracy that will respect their human rights. If this act is passed, $104 million will be used to assist the victims of Burma’s military and to help those who are displaced to return home.

The act also states that the U.S. government will demand accountability for all who have committed crimes against humanity and lays out a plan for economic restoration as well as assures its intentions to place economic sanctions, visa bans and trade restrictions where necessary.

This act would greatly benefit the refugees who are currently starving and the aid groups who are stretched too thin to help. It would also prevent future genocide and help put an end to the ethnic cleansing and persecution of the Rohingya people.

– Jenae Atwell

Photo: Flickr

Senator John McCain Takes a Stand Against Ethnic Cleansing in BurmaOn September 12, 2017, Arizona Senator John McCain spoke out against the treatment of the Rohingya population of the Rakhine State of Burma, also known as Myanmar. The Rohingya people are mostly Muslim-practicing individuals, and according to the United Nations, they are under attack. Specifically, the U.N. stated that the situation, which is characterized by a series of “cruel military operations,” is a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

In his address, Senator McCain withdrew his support of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018 (NDAA), which sought to expand a military relationship between the United States and Burma. Specifically, Senator McCain criticized Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her lack of interference with the ethnic cleansing in Burma, stating, “I can no longer support expanding military-to-military cooperation given the worsening humanitarian crisis […] against the Rohingya people.”

According to Council on Foreign Relations Senior Fellow for Southeast Asia Joshua Kurlantzick, Suu Kyi, who is a Nobel Peace Prize recipient for her work with democracy and human rights, “has never demonstrated much sympathy” to the Rohingya people. Suu Kyi has remained mostly silent throughout the humanitarian crisis; however, she has claimed that the ethnic cleansing in Burma was burdened by an “iceberg of misinformation,” which has further enabled the country’s continuous Buddhist nationalist movement.

The Rohingya people, a minority group within Burma‘s largely Buddhist population, are not recognized as an official ethnic group by the country’s government. The attacks against the Rohingya people escalated on August 25, 2017, when the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) targeted multiple Burmese police and military officials.

Approximately 270,000 Rohingya people have fled Burma in order to find safety and solace in Bangladesh. Additionally, tens of thousands of Rohingya people remain displaced throughout Burma. However, the Burmese government has suspended all foreign aid to the Rakhine State, which has left all of the Rohingya people without necessities like food or health services.

Human Rights Watch has called upon the United Nations, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to place pressure on the Burmese government in order to allow access to foreign aid for the Rohingya people. Suu Kyi’s silence has had a significantly negative impact on the attacks against the Rohingya people, but she can help stabilize the situation by allowing foreign aid to reach the misplaced Rohingya people.

The World Food Programme (WFP) is an organization that has provided approximately 580,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh with food, which is particularly important for pregnant women and young children. Also, the WFP’s nutritious food has slightly lessened the risk for disease outbreaks among the Rohingya refugees, as nutritious foods help to strengthen the immune system.

The Rohingya people still remain displaced throughout Bangladesh with no shelter; however, the WFP’s food delivery to the Rohingya people, and Senator McCain’s address, are important beginning steps to helping the refugees obtain better lives.

Emily Santora

Photo: Flickr

Ethnic Cleansing in BurmaOn September 12, 2017, Arizona Senator John McCain spoke out against the treatment of the Rohingya population of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. The Rohingya people are mostly Muslim-practicing individuals, and according to the United Nations, they are under attack. Specifically, the U.N. stated that the situation, which is characterized by a series of “cruel military operations,” is a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”. Thus, the ethnic cleansing in Myanmar must not be ignored.

In his address, Senator McCain withdrew his support of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018 (NDAA), which sought to expand a military relationship between the United States and Myanmar. Specifically, Senator McCain criticized leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her lack of interference throughout the ethnic cleansing in Myanmar. He stated, “I can no longer support expanding military-to-military cooperation given the worsening humanitarian crisis […] against the Rohingya people.”

According to Joshua Kurlantzick, the Senior Fellow for Southeast Asia on the Council on Foreign Relations, Suu Kyi, who is a Nobel Peace Prize recipient for her work with democracy and human rights, “has never demonstrated much sympathy” to the Rohingya people.

Furthermore, Suu Kyi has remained mostly silent throughout the humanitarian crisis; she has claimed that the ethnic cleansing in Myanmar was burdened by an “iceberg of misinformation,” which has further enabled the country’s continuous Buddhist nationalist movement.

The Rohingya people, which are a minority group within Myanmar’s largely Buddhist population, are not recognized as an official ethnic group by the country’s government. The attacks against the Rohingya people escalated on August 25, 2017, when the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) targeted multiple police and military officials.

Approximately 370,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar in order to find safety and solace in Bangladesh. Additionally, tens of thousands of Rohingya remain displaced throughout Myanmar. However, the Myanmar government has suspended all foreign aid to the Rakhine State, which has left all of the Rohingya people without necessities such as food or health services.

Human Rights Watch has called upon the United Nations, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to place pressure on the Myanmar government in order to allow access to foreign aid for the Rohingya people.

Suu Kyi’s silence has been demonstrated to have a significantly negative impact on the attacks against the Rohingya people, but she can help stabilize the situation by allowing foreign aid to reach the displaced Rohingya people.

The World Food Programme (WFP) is an organization that has provided approximately 580,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh with food, which is incredibly important for pregnant women and young children. The nutritious food provided by WFP has slightly lessened the risk of disease outbreaks among the Rohingya refugees, by helping to strengthen the immune system and health outcomes. They are seeking further financial resources to continue their work in tackling the crisis.

The Rohingya still remained displaced throughout Bangladesh with no shelter; however, WFP’s food delivery is a great first step to helping the refugees obtain better lives.

Emily Santora

Photo: Flickr

Rohingya MuslimsAs a minority group, Rohingya Muslims have been subjected to violence throughout the entirety of their existence. In what is being called “ethnic cleansing” and “genocide”, more than 400 Rohingya Muslims were killed in Burma in the month of August 2017.

The extreme violence that Rohingya Muslims have been facing in Burma has caused almost 90,000 to flee to neighboring Bangladesh in search of safety. The violence was reportedly set off by a group of Rohingya insurgents who attacked police posts in the Burma state of Rakhine on August 25, 2017.

Rohingya militants are being blamed by Burmese officials for burning homes and killing civilians. However, rights monitors and Rohingya Muslims argue that the Burmese Army is using this claim to force them out of Burma.

Rohingya Muslims living in Burma do not receive full citizenship rights, and they often need to seek official permission to marry or travel outside of their villages.

The violence has prompted responses from various world leaders, including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who brought the matter before the United Nations General Assembly this month. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif also endorsed this call.

Zarif denounced the “global silence on continuing violence against Rohingya Muslims” saying that “international action [is] crucial to prevent further ethnic cleansing—UN must rally” in a post he made on Twitter.

Additionally, Pakistani Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif has been encouraging Burma to investigate the alleged atrocities against the Muslims of Rohingya.

According to a United Nations spokeswoman, the Rohingya Muslims are “probably the most friendless people in the world” as they have struggled to find safety or permanent civilization in any area of the world.

While the Rohingya Muslims are facing violence, rape and injustice carried out by the Burmese army, their attempts to flee Burma are often met with more violence and brutality by human traffickers and coast guards of other nations.

This month, former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan filed a report that urged the Burmese government to restore citizenship rights, which were stripped in 1982, to the Muslims of Rohingya.

Although conditions seem nearly hopeless for Rohingya Muslims living in Burma, world leaders are working together to support this minority group. Help for Muslims of Rohingya is on the way, although it is in question whether it will arrive on time.

Kassidy Tarala

Photo: Flickr

Diseases in Burma
Burma, or the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, is a sovereign state in Southeast Asia. It is a coastal region bordered by India and Bangladesh to the west, Thailand and Laos to the east and China to the north and northeast. Currently, Burma’s population consists of approximately 53,897,000 people.

Between 1962 and 2011 Burma was under the control of an oppressive military junta who suppressed almost all dissent of their rule. With the ouster of the junta group in 2010, the country has since seen a gradual liberalization, but the effects of the allocation of state funding to mostly the military has taken its toll on the healthcare in Burma.

Due to almost 50 years of neglect by the junta and foreign sanctions restricting outside help, the health care system in Burma has suffered heavily. The World Health Organization (WHO) found that Burma ranked last out of 190 countries according to their “overall health system performance” in a study conducted in 2013.

Burma has taken significant steps to improve their health care system, but problems persist. The lack of funding during the junta regime cut off access to the majority of public health care facilities, making some of the most common diseases in Burma hazardous or even deadly.

Hepatitis A and E

Both hepatitis A and E are viral diseases that interfere with the functioning of the liver. Hepatitis is spread through the consumption of food or water contaminated with fecal matter in areas with poor sanitation. Infected individuals generally exhibit symptoms of fever, jaundice, abdominal pain and diarrhea.

There was a 15 percent increase in the mortality rate of Hepatitis E between the years 1990-2013 in Burma. This is due in part to lack of educational materials and TV/radio broadcasting materials regarding the endemic nature of hepatitis in the country.

Typhoid fever

Another of the diseases in Burma caused by food or water contaminated by fecal matter or sewage. Triggered by the bacteria Salmonella typhi, symptoms include a high fever, headache, abdominal pain and either constipation or diarrhea. Typhoid fever is atypical to developing countries and is generally rare in industrialized areas. Mortality rates can reach as high as 20 percent of people infected.

The bacteria that causes typhoid fever is present in many Southeast Asian countries such as Burma in areas where there is poor water and sewage sanitation. Floods in these areas can also quickly spread the bacteria. Burma has suffered from heavy flooding since 2015.

Cholera

A diarrheal disease caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholera. An average of five to ten percent of those infected will have severe symptoms characterized by severe watery diarrhea, vomiting and leg cramps. Rapid loss of bodily fluids leads to dehydration and shock and can lead to death within hours without treatment.

The last major cholera outbreak occurred in late 2014 in the Yangon region of Burma. Over 200 patients tested positive for cholera and 41 were admitted to the hospitals for treatment. Township health officer Dr. Aye Aye Moe attributed the outbreak to poor sanitation, overcrowding and lack of clean drinking water. Authorities responded by chlorinating the water, providing information on food safety and improving sanitation through better waste management in the region.

Japanese Encephalitis

The leading cause of vaccine-preventable encephalitis in Asia, Japanese encephalitis is generally contracted through mosquitos. Most cases are mild but a small percentage of those infected develop severe encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) with symptoms such as a headache, high fever, disorientation, coma, tremors and convulsions. There is no universal treatment and care is generally specific to the individual.

The last major outbreak of Japanese Encephalitis in Burma occurred in 2014 affecting 41 people. Dr. Soe Tun Aung, the medical superintendent at Sittway General Hospital, said that steps that were taken to prevent the outbreak of the spread included spraying insecticide and repairing drains to prevent stagnant water in which mosquitos breed. Dr. Soe Tun Aung blamed an unhealthy environment along with a lack of awareness about the risks associated with mosquito bites as contributing factors associated with the outbreak.

Malaria

A mosquito-borne disease caused by a parasite. Individuals who contract malaria suffer from symptoms such as fever, chills and flu-like illness. Malaria is one of the most deadly diseases in Burma. The country accounted for close to half of all malaria deaths in the Southeast Asia in 2000. Burma has had issues with drug resistant strains of the disease and prevalence of the disease outside of city epicenters is very high.

Though there is still much to do, the government has made significant strides in allocating funding from the military to both medical goods and services to help fight diseases in Burma. This additional spending will not only improve the healthcare in Burma but will also create opportunities for multinational companies in healthcare consumer products, pharmaceuticals and medical services the ability to provide their services to the country.

The Burmese state, as well as the National Health Policy and the Ministry of Health have taken on the responsibility of raising the health status of the population. These important steps have the potential to improve overall healthcare and, through the liberalization of the country, allow outside organizations the ability to step in and provide support.

Drew Hazzard

Photo: Flickr