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

Living Conditions in Myanmar
The term “living conditions” encompasses all the major necessities in life, shelter, food, safety, water and electricity. In recent years, living conditions in Myanmar have vastly improved, as shown through formal statistics and public opinion. For instance, public electricity in the nation has increased by 8% between 2015 and 2017 while connectivity also increased, with 82% of households owning phones. Public opinion polls of citizens reflect these positive statistics. Specifically, 91% of Myanmar residents believe when today’s children grow up, they will have a better standard of living than themselves. Many major organizations, including those discussed below, have helped to create such great strides.

3 Organizations Improving Living Conditions in Myanmar

  1. CARE: CARE is a worldwide organization working towards ending poverty while focusing on social justice. The organization emphasizes gender equality, with over 55% of its efforts focused on assisting women and girls. As of 2019, CARE and CARE’s partners have helped 130 million people in 100 nations through its programs. CARE has been assisting those in need in Myanmar since 1995. Currently, it is focusing on improving living conditions for Myanmar’s women and girls. Many long-term plans have been developed for the nation, such as the Rural Long-Term Program 2013-2028 and the Urban Long-Term Program 2013-2028. Both of these plans focus on protecting women from humanitarian emergencies and increasing their economic opportunities.
  2. Action Against Hunger: Action Against Hunger takes a different approach to improve living conditions around the world. It is an organization concentrated on ensuring food security and access to water. Internationally, Action Against Hunger has aided 21 million people in 2018 alone. Another focus of the organization is fighting child malnutrition by assisting in emergency food and water aid. Action Against Hunger has been bettering living conditions in Myanmar since 1994 through its numerous programs. One of its major programs works to expand safe access to water by fixing water infrastructure and making wells. Additionally, after providing access to water, the organization guarantees long-term access through training and creating groups of community members to manage their water. These Action Against Hunger programs have an expansive reach throughout Myanmar and have made a lasting change in many lives. In 2018 alone, its water, sanitation and hygiene programs reached 19,460 people and food security programs reached 23,790 people in Myanmar.
  3. Habitat for Humanity: Habitat for Humanity improves lives worldwide by creating adequate and affordable shelters for impoverished people and disaster victims. In 2019, the organization improved the lives and houses of 7 million people while also training another 2.3 million people. Since its establishment in 1976, it has helped over 29 million people worldwide. The organization has been working to better living conditions in Myanmar since 2008. It began its work in the nation after a  cyclone destroyed many homes. The organization partnered with World Concern to restore 1,700 homes in the most heavily impacted region of Myanmar. On top of rebuilding houses, Habitat for Humanity successfully assisted over 950 Myanmarese families in gaining access to clean water and health centers. Currently, the organization continues to assist families across Myanmar.

As shown through these three organizations, there are many different strategies for humanitarian aid. Increasing women’s opportunities, creating safe water accessibility, providing food security and creating shelter are all essential to the development of improved living conditions both in Myanmar and across the world.

Erica Burns
Photo: Flickr

Myanmar's Most Vulnerable PopulationsThe country of Myanmar is facing many difficulties regarding the spread and effects of COVID-19. With a tattered healthcare system, warring states, a fragile economy and thousands of people displaced, Myanmar’s most vulnerable populations are experiencing several risks. Displaced people living in detention camps, Rohingya Muslims and the poor disproportionately face the negative effects of COVID-19 in culmination with a declining economy.

Myanmar

The World Health Organization (WHO) has classified Myanmar’s health system as one of the worst in the world. According to official data, about 40% of Myanmar’s population live below or close to the poverty line.

There is a limited number of doctors, with 6.1 doctors per 10,000 people. Additionally, there are as few as one doctor per 83,000 people in conflict-affected areas according to Human Rights Watch.

Furthermore, there is little healthcare or medical facilities in rural areas, where most of Myanmar’s population lives. That makes it extremely difficult for people to seek medical assistance and testing for COVID-19, and estimate the number of coronavirus cases.

Ethnic Conflict

In addition to a poor healthcare system, Myanmar is also riddled with the conflict between the government and Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs). Fighting in areas such as the Rakhine state and Chin state prevents any possible COVID-19 relief and government aid.

Additionally, the government has put mobile internet restrictions in place in response to the armed conflicts. Lack of accessible internet limits information about the virus along with access to medical services, preventing people from knowing the government’s response to COVID-19 and how they can protect themselves.

The Vulnerable

It is at a time like this that minorities and threatened groups are the most vulnerable. Many aid workers fear that on top of inadequate resources and poor living conditions, the virus could exacerbate hostile emotions towards minorities and targeted groups in Myanmar.

Groups such as displaced persons and the Rohingya Muslims face difficult obstacles in receiving medical treatment or preventative measures against the COVID-19 virus.

Displaced People

According to Human Rights Watch, there are about 350,000 displaced people in Myanmar, and 130,000 people living in detention camps in the Rakhine state. Military conflict between the government and ethnic armed groups mainly caused these people’s displacement. Living conditions are dismal in these camps, with little to no resources for treating or preventing COVID-19. There is limited access to clean water, toilets and medical services. Diseases are common and according to a Human Rights Report, “in such camps, one toilet is shared by as many as 40 people, [and] one water access point by as many as 600.”

The Rohingya Muslims

The Rohingya Muslims, a religious minority group, is one of Myanmar’s most vulnerable populations. They have been living in detention camps after experiencing persecution in Myanmar. The Myanmar government has restricted their freedom of movement, and the Rohingya Muslims live in squalid camp conditions. There are only two health centers available, both unequipped to test and treat COVID-19.

Living conditions are extremely cramped. According to a Forbes article, one of the refugee camps, Kutupalong, houses “almost 860,000 refugees. They are more densely populated than New York, with more than 100,000 people living in each square mile.” With people living in such close proximity to one another, the spread of COVID-19 through the Rohingya Muslims is inevitable.

Economic Effects on the Poor

COVID-19 also negatively impacts Myanmar’s economy. As a consequence, it has exacerbated poverty and lowered living conditions. According to the International Growth Centre and World Bank Open Data, Myanmar had the lowest per capita GDP in Southeast Asia in 2018.

Furthermore, because Myanmar’s economy largely relies on international investment and exported goods such as garment products, COVID-19’s disruption on the world economy has caused Myanmar to further suffer.

Especially affected by the economic decline are poor workers and households. Groups such as “street and mobile vendors and various day-rate workers in urban areas, and the landless and day-rate workers in rural areas” experience adverse effects as income, food security and employment decline, according to the International Growth Centre.

In the face of the COVID-19 virus, Myanmar suffers many challenges that make preventing and treating the virus extremely difficult. In all of this, Myanmar’s most vulnerable populations – the displaced, the Rohingya Muslims and Myanmar’s poor – are at the greatest disadvantage. Although there have been efforts by the government to provide financial aid for preventative measures and help from humanitarian organizations, it is not enough. These vulnerable groups are still hugely at risk from COVID-19.

Silvia Huang
Photo: Flickr

gender roles in MyanmarPolitical change often brings a liberalization of public opinion on gender roles. On the surface, this seems to be the case in Myanmar. In 2010, the country held its first national election in 20 years, following half a century of brutal reign by a military junta. This election led to the release of democratic icon Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest and to her 2012 win of a parliamentary seat. Suu Kyi went on to lead the National League for Democracy to victory in the 2015 election, but the party resisted her proposed reforms. Since 2017, Myanmar has descended into internal conflict and waged genocide against its Rohingya minority. This continued violence disproportionately impacts women, impacting broader gender roles in Myanmar.

Women’s Experiences of Post-War Development

The European Association of Development Research and Training Institutes hosted a webinar entitled “Gender and Development in Myanmar” on June 17, 2020. During the webinar, Dr. Elisabeth Olivius shared her findings that post-war reforms may entrench gender disparities in Myanmar. The country has experienced a relative period of peace over the last 15 years. There has been an upsurge in state-led development projects in the past decade. These projects aim to ameliorate legacies of war, namely extreme poverty, but a lack of state provisioning has actually widened gender inequalities.

Dr. Olivius explained how unequal gendered divisions of wartime labor prevent women from taking advantage of development. They shape who wins and loses in post-war transformations. Domestic responsibilities make women less mobile and prevent them from taking advantage of new opportunities. In addition to tangible constraints, women’s wartime roles forced them to endure trauma, exhaustion, and stress without respite. Dr. Olivius recounted one anecdote: during the war, the men of one village fled to the jungle to hide, leaving the women to feed and pacify the occupying army.

Traditional values—often intertwined with a preference for authoritarian rule—perpetuate the conservative gender attitudes that keep women out of the public sphere. This is exemplified by how women’s informal labor in Myanmar also underpins its need for economic reforms. Burmese women perform work in the mining industry and through reproductive labor—the birth and rearing of children—without the benefit of state aid. Feminist groups have seen successes like the creation of a national strategic plan and the drafting of a gender violence law. However, nationalist groups have advanced a largely regressive agenda.

Poverty and Gender Roles in Myanmar

The extreme poverty brought on by wartime conditions also disproportionately impacts women. Women sometimes have to walk miles to procure resources for their families, according to Dr. Olivius. One report details local women walking for hours to draw water from the closest well. This well was in a dark and oxygen-lacking cave several hours from their village. Without childcare alternatives, the women had to bring their children with them on this journey. These women have since reported miscarriages resultant from the grueling collection trips. Addressing women’s poverty in Myanmar isn’t just about securing better-paying jobs; it must include treatment for emotional and physical depletion and harm.

Furthermore, Dr. Olivius stressed that ownership of land in the context of economic restructuring is gendered and contributes to insecurity for women. Without the necessary political reforms, women go unrecognized as landholders. This lack of government-sanctioned landownership makes women particularly vulnerable to land appropriation by outside groups. One Burmese woman lamented, “The local authorities do not even recognize the woman’s name, just only the leader of the family. The leader is a man, so nothing for women…Now they have no land to survive.” Women are not considered family leaders, despite the male migration and war that resulted in many female-led households.

Elevating Women in Myanmar

Gender roles in Myanmar must change beyond the point of one woman publicly working in politics. While the 2008 revisions to Myanmar’s constitution show promise, they do not include any specifics concerning women’s representation. Quotas in such situations often serve as a distraction and don’t necessarily lead to development, and the representation of individual women in politics is compatible with gender inequality and negative attitudes towards women’s rights.

Women’s rights need to be constructed by and for the women impacted. One necessary step is collaboration with indigenous sources to reimagine Buddhism as a conceptual ground for women’s rights. Professor Htun emphasized in the webinar that religiosity and conservatism are not linked in Myanmar. It is important that donors support groups like Musawah, which is “spearheading a global Campaign for Justice in Muslim Family Laws,” and creating a Muslim vision of women’s rights. Donors can also encourage autonomous, local construction, even if it is religiously oriented. Progress begets progress. As the country makes political and economic strides, gender roles in Myanmar must become more equitable.

– Annie Iezzi
Photo: Flickr

Rafode
For many years, microfinance was viewed as one of the most successful means of raising individuals and communities out of poverty. In Myanmar, small and medium enterprises made up 99% of the country’s businesses. Most of those were, to no surprise, micro-businesses. In particular, the tool of microfinance was viewed as especially helpful to women. Yet, it turns out that studies found that microloans were not actually as impactful as many wanted them to be. The problem is that, because microloans are often given to those considered high-risk borrowers, high-interest rates are charged, making it difficult for those receiving the loans in the long run. The way to make microloans sustainable is by diverting the focus away from scalability and immediate returns. Rafode, a startup in Kenya, has done just that.

Headquartered in Kisumu, Kenya, Rafode is a “non-deposit taking Microfinance Institution.” With its main focus on women in rural communities, Rafode has successfully distributed over 40,000 loans, all with a value of around 700 million Kenya Shillings or $6.5 million. Relying on technology to deliver its products and services, Rafode has succeeded in reaching rural communities and uplifting both men and women through microloans.

Products and Services

Rafode has eight different products, all in the form of loans for different purposes.

  1. Inuka Business Loan: As a group loan, this is intended to encourage clients to create, upgrade or expand a business. This loan is the first step to receiving an individual loan and can range from 10,000 to 480,000 Kenya shillings.
  2. Masomo Loan: Dedicated to education, this loan is aimed to support a client’s family in receiving an education.
  3. Green Energy Loan: Working with other companies that provide green products, including Burn, Marathoner and Sunking, this group loan provides support for rural clients seeking access to affordable green energy products.
  4. Agribusiness Loan: As the name would suggest, this loan exists to specifically help small scale farmers in the agribusiness industry.
  5. Pamoja Loan: As another group loan, this works to support a group hoping to support its local economy.
  6. Emergency Loan: As an individual loan, the Emergency Loan serves to cater to the client’s emergencies, typically related to their business.
  7. Individual Business Loan: A more selective loan to receive, this loan exists exclusively for clients who already have businesses, and who already have businesses that are stable and have a reliable source of profits.
  8. Asset Loan: This final loan is self-securing. Providing real flexibility to clients, they gain the ability to finance movable assets and free up cash they might not have had before. Like the Individual Business Loan, this exists for clients who already are seeing their business profit, and hope to expand or grow it even more.

The Value of Microfinance

While conventional microloans have not been so effective, researchers have found that by providing microloans with little to no collateral, there are usually better results. Specifically, when given to women, these results are even more effective. This is because, especially in developing countries, microloans are among the only things that increase women’s decision-making power. In other words, microloans undeniably empower women.

So, Rafode’s efforts to give 85% of their microloans to women, focusing on rural communities and offering a plethora of different types of loans, all with very little collateral, have enabled this startup to do extremely impactful work that provides mutual benefits to the clients and back to the company. The most successful microfinance products allow flexible payment periods, individual liability contracts and one of Rafode’s main tools, the use of technology.

By believing in microfinance and adjusting to what will work by trusting in their clients, Rafode has raised individuals and families out of poverty, as well as revitalized economies in the process.

– Olivia Fish
Photo: Flickr

5 Facts about Poverty in Myanmar
Myanmar is a country in Southeast Asian and is is one of many developing countries facing the same issues as those on other continents. Poverty in Myanmar can be solved with greater access and investment in resources such as food and safe drinking water. Here are 5 facts about poverty in Myanmar.

5 Facts about Poverty in Myanmar

  1. Living under $1 per day. In Myanmar, the percentage of those living on less than $1 per day was 24.8% in 2017. Although this is a large drop from 48.2% in 2005, there is still a long way to go to measure up to other developing countries. The Myanmar economy has improved, however, since 1987 when ill-prepared monetary and fiscal policies sent the country into a depression.
  2. Wars with the Rohingya Muslims. One of the most significant and recent culture wars was with the Rohingya Muslims. This event happened only 3 years ago, with the Myanmar military burning down villages and abusing women. As a result, three out of four of Rohingya Muslims were chased out of their homes and forced to find a new life.
  3. Maternal mortality rates. In 2017, the maternal mortality rate was 250, which is significantly better than in 2000, when the number was 340. Improved healthcare access was the main driver for saving Myanmar mothers. However, there is a lot of room for improvement.
  4. Agriculture factor. Poverty in Myanmar persists because farming, which can serve as an economical boosting point and form a tax base for a more ambitious industry. A worker in Myanmar can only harvest 23 kg of rice per day. Additionally, this is around 20 kg less than in neighboring countries such as Thailand and Vietnam. Increasing agricultural output will promote self-sufficiency and political stability. There are many programs in place that try to provide such solutions through loans and community outreach. For example, the World Bank approved $200 million in loans to farmers that were facing increased animal feed prices and the inability to move food to local markets, hoping to prevent an economic contraction because of COVID-19.
  5. Access to sanitation. Mobilizing local citizens to improve sanitation, improving health for small communities and limiting dependence on foreign aid can be extremely beneficial. That is what WASH (Wash, Sanitization and Hygiene) services aim to do. They give technologies such as anti-defecation water pumps and toilets to community centers. As a result, this improved conditions for more than 150,000 Myanmar citizens in 2018 alone. Such programs help in many other sectors than public health. Children stay in school longer when proper hand washing reduces disease. In addition, this creates even more positive effects in the country such as reduced poverty rate and maternal mortality rates.

Reducing poverty in Myanmar through actions such as improving access to proper sewage treatment is a manageable goal. All it takes is the improvement of existing infrastructure to make measurable and positive impacts on the world.

Michael Straus
Photo: Flickr

Humanitarian Aid for the Rohingya Refugee CrisisThe Muslim Rohingya population in Myanmar, a Buddhist country, has been severely discriminated against throughout history. Discriminatory policies in Myanmar deny citizenship to the Rohingya people. Additionally, Rohingya individuals cannot obtain birth certificates, receive an education or be employed legally. In August of 2017, violent attacks and persecution against the Rohingya people forced hundreds of thousands of Rohingya to seek refuge in Bangladesh. Almost one million Rohingya refugees currently live in refugee camps in the Cox Bazar region of Bangladesh.

Many organizations and international agencies are providing aid and support to the Rohingya refugee crisis. In addition to improving access to basic needs such as food, water, and shelter, UNICEF and the UNHCR have recognized access to education as a top priority.

The UNHCR

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is supporting the refugee population with basic needs such as food, water, shelter, and health services, including mental health resources. One of the largest challenges that the refugee camps face is flooding from annual monsoons in the Cox Bazar region. The UNHCR was able to relocate over 24,000 Rohingya and provide more than 150,000 monsoon preparation kits in anticipation of the monsoon season. These efforts continued through 2019 with the additional construction of 50 miles of infrastructure including bridges and roads and the distribution of post-disaster kits.

The UNHCR also provides first aid training for refugees and has trained more than 1,200 individuals. They also lead sessions to raise awareness about emergency preparedness within communities and have reached more than 80,000 Rohingya through these programs. Providing the Rohingya with access to education is one of the main goals for the UNHCR. Many children were not receiving any formal education in Myanmar due to discriminatory policies. The UNHCR has reached 502,000 refugee children with some form of education by building 1,602 learning areas and bringing 1,251 teachers to the area.

UNICEF

In collaboration with the government of Bangladesh, UNICEF has recently launched a plan to increase access to education for Rohingya refugee children in the Cox Bazar region. The curriculum will be tested on 10,000 children in grades six through nine during the first half of 2020. From there, it will expand for all ages. Education is a key factor to help the integration of the Rohingya people into society in Myanmar. Refugees are already at a significant disadvantage as a result of discrimination and consequential displacement. They lack basic resources such as nutritious food, proper housing and medical services. Access to education can help Rohingya refugees to reintegrate into society instead of further exacerbating disparities. It can increase their chances of finding employment and decrease poverty rates.

UNICEF has also been running informal education programs that have reached 315,000 refugee children in 3,200 learning centers. Subjects studied include English and Burmese language, Math and life skills or science depending on the level. The majority of children are still at levels one and two which are comparable to pre-primary to second-grade level. UNICEF has programs in place for adolescent education as well which include vocational and life skills. Education can tackle the Rohingya refugee crisis by reducing the chances of children being exposed to trafficking, child marriage and abuse as well as empowering refugee children.

Southeast Asian Governments

Two boats carrying hundreds of Rohingya refugees set out in February 2020 but were stuck at sea for months after setting out to find refuge. Many countries have denied them entry, leaving the refugees stranded without sufficient supplies of food or water. Bangladesh has taken in over one million Rohingya refugees since the violence and persecution began in Myanmar. However, in April 2020 the Foreign Minister Abdul Momen stated that Bangladesh would not allow any more Rohingya into the country. Momen cited the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the numerous refugees already in Bangladesh, as reasons for this decision.

Other Southeast Asian governments such as Malaysia and Thailand have also failed to assist the refugees. The Malaysian officials who initially found one of the boats attempted to bring it back to international waters but about 50 refugees were able to swim to shore and are currently detained in Malaysia. The UNHCR has requested access in order to support these refugees with humanitarian aid with no response from Malaysia.

Nearby governments should cooperate to provide assistance to Rohingya refugees in their own countries. They need to provide resources such as health services and basic needs, especially during a global pandemic. These governments should be cooperating with international agencies to address the Rohingya refugee crisis in Myanmar.

– Maia Cullen
Photo: Human Rights Watch

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

Hunger in Myanmar
Myanmar, also known as Burma, is a nation with a diverse population of approximately 53 million people of at least 135 different ethnic groups. While it is the second-largest country in Southeast Asia, Myanmar remains one of the least developed nations in the world.

Progress in the fight against hunger in Myanmar

The country of Myanmar has made significant progress in the fight against hunger in the past few decades. The rate of under-five overweight children fell from 2.6% in 2009 to 1.5% in 2016. Myanmar’s low birth-weight prevalence also decreased slightly from 13.9% in 2000 to 12.3% in 2015.

The proportion of undernourished people in the population also declined remarkably. In 2019, around 1 in 10 Burmese were undernourished, which shows significant progress compared to 2000 where almost half of the population was undernourished.

Myanmar is also performing well among developing countries in reducing wasting in children. Wasting in children means having a low weight for height ratio, which is a strong predictor of under-five child mortality. Compared to the average developing country rate at 8.9%, Myanmar’s national under-five wasting prevalence stood at 6.6%.

Despite these achievements, more than a third of Myanmar’s population who live in poverty spend a significant amount of their limited income on food, and they are still struggling with malnutrition.

Malnutrition burden

Malnutrition among the under-five population is a serious factor when it comes to the state of hunger in Myanmar, as it hinders the children’s growth and development. This issue also exposes these children to various illnesses.

Approximately 29.4% of the children under five were stunted in 2016. While this percentage is indeed an improvement from the national prevalence of 35.1% in 2009, it is still significantly high when compared to an average of 25% in other developing countries. In some states or regions, the prevalence could be upwards of 41%, indicating that 4 in 10 children will not be able to reach their full potential in life.

Malnutrition also disproportionately affects children from the poorest households. While the rate of stunting in children from the wealthiest group is 16%, the rate is more than doubled for the poorest group of children, with 38% of them stunted.

Malnutrition due to poor diets not only negatively affects the children, but is also a great burden to the adult population in Myanmar. A staggering 46.3% of women of reproductive age have anemia, while 7.9% of adult women and 6.9% of adult men are diabetic. Meanwhile, 4% of men and 7.3% of women are obese, leaving them at risk of different cardiovascular diseases and other serious health consequences.

Rohingya crisis

The Rohingya people are among those who are the most at risk of poverty and hunger in Myanmar, a predominantly Buddist nation. The Rohingya population, a large majority of whom are Muslims, has long been experiencing discrimination, restrictions from basic services and denial of citizenship by local authorities despite condemnation from the international community.

In 2017, after attacks from the Rohingya insurgents killed several members of Myanmar security forces, the Myanmar military ferociously retaliated by massacring and destroying villages in the western Rakhine state. This forced nearly 700,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee to Bangladesh. After the army crackdown, the World Food Programme (WFP) estimated that more than 80,000 children under 5 years old living in parts of western Myanmar were wasting and may need treatment for malnutrition.

Withholding food supply or forced starvation are other strategies being used against the Rohingya Muslims to drive them away from their homes. The Rohingya refugees interviewed by Amnesty International reported that soldiers blocked them from accessing rice paddies and other food resources, stole their harvests, and gave their food and livestock to non-Rohingya neighbors. Sometimes they would have to go for several days without food.

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims who have been displaced due to violence in previous years must live in makeshift shelters with appalling living conditions and under direct threat of dangers caused by monsoon rains. Surveys show that 38% of children living in these camps are stunted, and at least 12% are suffering from severe malnutrition.

Assistance from the international community

High exposure to natural disasters, armed conflicts or inter-communal clashes are just some of the numerous challenges that Myanmar faces. These factors combined leave a large proportion of Myanmar’s population suffering from poverty and hunger. It is estimated that nearly 1 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance.

Since 1994, Action Against Hunger has worked to fight hunger in Myanmar by improving nutrition, food security, water quality, sanitation and hygiene in vulnerable communities where ethnic minorities reside. In 2018, the organization’s nutrition and health programs reached 26,751 people. Another 19,461 people benefited from the water, sanitation, and hygiene programs, while 23,790 people were helped by the food security and livelihood programs. In just 2018 alone, Action Against Hunger has reached 76,312 in vulnerable communities across Myanmar.

The organization also works to respond to the urgent needs of the displaced Rohingya people who fled from violence in Myanmar. In just one year, Action Against Hunger has helped more than 700,000 displaced people with food security and livelihoods, mental support and care practices, water quality and access, and hygiene and sanitation.

 

Despite the challenges, Myanmar has achieved the 2015 Millennium Development Goal of halving hunger and reached the status of a lower-middle-income country in the past decades. Many organizations are working hard alongside the government to alleviate poverty and hunger in Myanmar. However, with the conflicts between Myanmar’s authorities and the Rohingya Muslims remains ongoing inside the nation, there is still a lot of work to be done.

Minh-Ha La
Photo: Flickr

Himalayan Cataract ProjectIn 1995, Dr. Geoff Tabin and Dr. Sanduk Ruit launched the Himalayan Cataract Project to eliminate curable and preventable blindness in under-resourced Himalayan communities. The two founded their innovative campaign after recognizing that cataracts account for 70% of unnecessary blindness in Nepal. Cataracts, or cloudy, opaque areas in the eye that block light entry, occur naturally with age. Poor water quality, malnutrition and disease tend to exacerbate the issue in developing countries.

For years, Dr. Tabin and Dr. Ruit had seen Nepalese villagers take blindness as a death sentence. “It was just accepted that you get old, your hair turns white, your eyes turn white, you go blind and you die,” Dr. Tabin told the Stanford Medicine magazine. But after Dutch teams arrived in Nepal to perform cataract surgery, he explained, “People came back to life. It was amazing.”

The Strategy

The Himalayan Cataract Project delivers sight-restoring cataract surgery at a low cost. Dr. Ruit’s groundbreaking procedure lasts 10 minutes and costs just $25. Today the organization has succeeded in providing permanent refractive correction for well over 500,000 people.

In an effort to leave a more sustainable impact, the project works from a “train the trainer” model that empowers community health providers and enhances local eye care centers. Rather than simply treating patients in need, specialists introduce new methods and technology to strengthen the practices of existing clinics.

As a result of these and other advances, the blindness rate in Nepal has plummeted to 0.24%, similar to that of Western countries. The Himalayan Cataract Project now operates in India, Tibet and Myanmar. Dr. Tabin has also initiated training programs in Sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in Ghana and Ethiopia. He hopes to see the same successes here as achieved in Asia.

The Link Between Blindness and Poverty

Addressing blindness is a critical step in the fight against poverty. Blindness prevents able-bodied workers from supporting themselves, shortens lives and reduces the workforce. Children of blind parents often stay home from school as they scramble to fulfill the duties of household caregivers and providers. In short, blindness worsens poverty, while poverty magnifies the risk of blindness.

The Himalayan Cataract Project aims to break the cycle of blindness and poverty. Studies have shown a 400% return on every dollar that the organization invests in eradicating curable and preventable blindness. Their procedures stimulate the economy by helping patients get back to work.

Individual success stories continue to power the organization. Adjoe, a 40-year-old mother from Togo, traveled to Ghana for surgery when she determined that her blind eye was hurting business. As a street vendor selling beans, she saw customers avoid her stand for fear of contagion. She consulted Dr. Boteng Wiafe, a partner of the Himalayan Cataract Project, who performed oculoplastic surgery and gave her a prosthetic eye. Carefully matching the prosthetic to the size, color and shape of her good eye, Dr. Wiafe ensured that Adjoe could return home to provide for her family once again.

Response to COVID-19

In recent months, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought a halt to live clinical training and elective surgeries, but the backlog of blindness continues to grow worldwide. Meanwhile, concerns about the virus may dissuade blind patients from seeking treatment for the next several years.

While eye care has been suspended, the Himalayan Cataract Project is using this time to redesign and restructure their programs so as to emerge even stronger than before. The organization is also working to equip partner clinics with information and resources to keep their patients safe. Some communities have even taken part in the shift to remote education and implemented a virtual training system.

Despite the uncertainty of the months ahead, the Himalayan Cataract Project remains firm in its commitment to fighting blindness and poverty. Its partner clinics around the globe have been tireless in their efforts to affirm that the poor and vulnerable will receive the eye care they need once patients can receive in-person treatment again.

Katie Painter
Photo: Flickr