Improving 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.
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