Although Myanmar has significantly reduced its poverty from 48.2 percent in 2004 to 32.1 percent in 2015, poverty still inhabits about a third of the population. Furthermore, of the 15.8 million people living below the poverty line, 13.8 live in rural areas. This disproportionate distribution of the poor is correlated largely with the limited reach of health education in Myanmar.
The Need for Health Education in Myanmar
Rural children’s growth, physically and cognitively, is often stunted by poor basic health education including that of HIV, malnutrition, and high infant mortality. Health issues are especially detrimental to the welfare of rural households as income is often based on agricultural jobs that are physically demanding. Poor health education which results in poor health, in turn, damages the labor market and the economy. The World Bank, in its assessment of Myanmar’s poverty, foresees increased growth especially in rural areas, and health education is one of their most important priorities as a part of its Country Partnership Framework program.
Myanmar has benefitted from successful collaborations from organizations within the international community.
- The World Bank: Since 2015, about 5.4 million people have benefited from the World Bank’s support of better schools, and stipends have given 150,000 more children the opportunity to study. Development of more health clinics and corresponding services are reducing extreme poverty in Myanmar. Infectious diseases and child mortality rates are lowered by the strengthening of national health systems and education curriculum.
- USAID: USAID along with Global Development Alliance partner P&G collaborated to educate people from central and eastern Myanmar on how to prevent diarrheal diseases which is common among poorly informed citizens. So far this year, these organizations have assisted about two million people in achieving an understanding of proper sanitation habits. Health education in Myanmar can lift communities out of a vulnerability to conflict and build more resilience to preventable diseases.
- UNICEF encourages increased government investment from its natural resources to education and healthcare to alleviate Myanmar’s socio-economic issues. In the fiscal year 2012-2013, Myanmar’s government only spent 2.3 percent of its GDP on the social sector while surrounding Southeast Asian countries spent more than twice as much on education and healthcare. This neglect continues to result in malnourished, poor street children and high child labor.
Innovative Strategies to Increase Health Education in Rural Areas
Many poor villages in Myanmar are popular regions for human trafficking activity, and thousands of children without access to relevant medical information are victims of preventable diseases. About 260,000 people have HIV, many of whom are poor.
In response to the trafficking crisis and other health issues affecting young Myanmars, some innovative strategies are now in place.
- The Mandalay Marionette Theatre utilizes face-to-face learning through puppet acts as an effective and innovative strategy to make health education accessible and memorable to children from rural backgrounds. While more affluent countries are exploring the educational uses of artificial intelligence and virtual reality, this puppet group advocates for its emotionally engaging productions. “When children experience an exciting event, they continue to talk about it when it’s over. It enforces a peer effect. They begin to ask each other, ‘Did you actually wash your hands and practice good hygiene?” says Dr. Shakuntala Banaji, a communication scholar at the London School of Economics, who recognizes the potency of puppet entertainment for education.
- The Myanmar Red Cross, partnering with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, initiated an education program that uses television and film to cover different relevant health topics for remote communities. It has provided 40 villages with TVs, speakers, solar panels and more, to make media a reliable educational tool. This technology provides a positive system of change to understanding and implementing safer health habits. The educational videos cover many first aid topics. The ones in higher demand instruct people on how to maneuver commonplace perils such as snake bites and burns. These videos also combat many uninformed, indigenous beliefs. Malaria, a common threat in Mogok, was falsely understood to be a result of eating certain plants. A village administrator has learned otherwise from video sources and has informed the people of other effective preventative methods to protect themselves from the actual source of malaria, mosquitoes.
- The ‘Mama Oo’ radio drama series of 2015-2016 is another creative means of stimulating change in attitudes regarding maternal and child health. An entertaining way of imparting more information on maternal and child health issues to the community, this radio show provided a convenient way through short episodes of understanding the eight key health messages approved by the Ministry of Health.
The current government prioritizes education as the core of its reform strategy with the ambition of lifting its country into the ranks of upper-middle-income countries by 2030. The different innovative strategies for disseminating important messages regarding good health is evidence of these efforts. Inclusive health education in Myanmar serves as one of the most important roots to tend to as the country climbs out of poverty.
– Alice Lieu