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

Myanmar's healthcare system

In 2000, the World Health Organization (WHO) ranked the healthcare systems of 190 countries throughout the world. In this ranking, Myanmar’s healthcare system was listed as the worst overall. Myanmar is still a grade three level of concern to the WHO, meaning multiple major events have affected public health in Myanmar.


Health of Mothers and Children


Shortly after becoming independent from Great Britain in 1948, Myanmar — formerly Burma — became the subject of a dictatorship, which lasted until November 2015. Under this dictatorship, nearly a third of the country’s budget was allocated for the military, while just over one percent of funding was set aside for Myanmar’s healthcare system. As a result, infant and maternal mortality rates and infectious illness rates were astronomical; the maternal mortality rate was listed at 380 per 100,000 live births, nearly 60 times the rate of Japan. As of 2013, the government increased healthcare spending to almost four percent, but the people of Myanmar are still struggling with overall wellness.

The Myanmar Maternal and Child Welfare Association (MMCWA), founded to improve the health of mothers and children in Myanmar, has collaborated with various organizations like the International Planned Parenthood Federation, United Nations Population Fund and UNICEF to redesign Myanmar’s healthcare system. By providing education on disease and STI prevention, advocacy programs and family planning services, the MMCWA aims to lower maternal and infant mortality rates and help level out birth rates in Myanmar.


Overall Healthcare in Myanmar


Another organization, Medical Action Myanmar (MAM), is working from the bottom up to improve overall healthcare in Myanmar. MAM’s focus is on communities with little to no access to healthcare. The organization is working to create a network of health services and provide medical treatment and preventative education. To decrease the incidences of HIV in the country, MAM is providing safe needle exchange, condom distribution and STD treatment. The services are free for those who cannot afford them. 

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) also provides public health interventions and health assistance to communities in Myanmar. USAID’s focus often lies in extending assistance to high-risk communities that wouldn’t usually have access to healthcare. By performing the country’s first-ever demographic survey, USAID was able to identify what health concerns were most prevalent and, over time, has provided treatment to those suffering from tuberculosis, malaria, diarrheal disease and other emergent health concerns.

Growth efforts in Myanmar are off to a slow start after being under a dictatorship for so long, but the government is determined to make a change. The Ministry of Health’s “Vision 2030” goal of improving nine major sectors of Myanmar’s healthcare system, although lofty, is an incredible beginning to the transformation of the country with the world’s worst healthcare.

– Anna Sheps

Photo: Pixabay