Health Status: The Most Common Diseases in Burma

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.


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.


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