9. Rights to Education and Health
9.2 Situation of Education
9.3 Situation of Health
Rampant corruption, a lack of transparency, and severe economic mismanagement has resulted in a steady decline in education and increasingly poor healthcare in Burma. Due to widespread poverty, coupled with an appallingly low expenditure on public welfare, only an elite few are able to receive basic healthcare services or achieve a moderate level of education. Moreover, junta sponsored corruption in these sectors acts to further devalue the academic competency and the quality of healthcare. Burma remains one of the most isolated countries with one of the lowest standards of living and poorest healthcare records in the developing world.
The SPDC continues to fall short of fulfilling its obligations under international human rights law in respect to the rights to health and education. Plans and programs for reform in these sectors have failed to improve conditions. Meanwhile, the junta continues to arbitrarily shut down schools and implement policies that lower rather than raise the standard of living and quality of life throughout the country. Although there have been reports of increased regime cooperation and a willingness to engage with some UN agencies and NGOs, genuine progress in the field of health and education remains marginal.
Since 1990, the junta’s expenditure on social sector services has steadily declined. According to the British government’s Department for International Development, Burma has the lowest level of public investment in health and education services vis-à-vis military spending than any other ASEAN nation. Between 1992 and 2003, the SPDC allocated 29 percent of the central budget to defense. Meanwhile only eight percent went towards education and healthcare combined. Published budget figures show that per capita spending on the military is nine times higher than that of health services and twice that of education services (source: “Even Animals Are Starving,” AHRC, April 2002).
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9.2 Situation of Education
Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit. -Article 25(1), Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Prior to Gen. Ne Win’s 1962 military coup, Burma had a reputation of being one of the most highly educated countries in the region. Since then, however, Burma’s education system has been hailed as one of the least efficient and most underdeveloped in the whole of Southeast Asia (source: “A Dangerous Journey to Get to School: Why Are Students Fleeing the Burmese Education System?” BI, July 2005). While in the past students worked independently under the tutelage of Buddhist monks in monastic schools, since the junta’s rise to and consolidation of power the education system has become an institution of the regime. That the SPDC opts to jealously guard its power rather than promote free scholarship and academic excellence has contributed to the downturn in the country’s public education. Under Burma’s 1974 constitution, Article 52, “every citizen shall have the right to an education” and such education shall be compulsory; however, education in Burma can hardly be considered free in terms of finance or principle.
In 2000, the junta began implementing a short-term four-year education program alongside a 30-year long-term plan for basic education. The four-year plan (2000-2004) had six main targets, which included: (1) revising the basic education curriculum, (2) introducing a new assessment system, (3) redefining the completion of basic education and (4) reassessing the matriculation system. The plan was also designed to introduce multi-media classroom facilities, upgrade the quality of teacher education, support all-around development activity and universalize primary education. The 30-year long-term education plan for basic education (2001-2031) aims at improving the quality of basic education.
Despite the junta’s best laid plans, 2005 saw little improvement in the quality of education in Burma. As parents must pay tuition fees on top of other fees extorted from pupils by teachers and other local officials, many families are unable to meet educational costs and children are unable to receive any education. At the beginning of the 2005-06 school year, on average, students faced an enrollment fee of 6,000-9,000 kyat in rural areas and between 10,000-15,000 kyat in urban zones. Some schools ask for additional money for renovation, as well as costs for textbooks, stationery and supplies, school uniforms, bus fares, private tuition fees and a yearly contribution to the Parent Teacher Association (PTA). The burden of textbooks is particularly controversial, as the junta forces students to purchase books that cost twice the amount of those available on the market. (Source: “Basic Education Fees Increased,” Kaowao News, 14 June 2005). The high cost of education is particularly prohibitive for children whose families often live hand-to-mouth existences. The situation is little better in urban centers where, according to the DVB, due to low salaries and high inflation rates, even civil servants find it difficult to send their children to school. (Sources: “High Drop-Out Rates in Government Schools and SPDC’s Oppression against Mon National Schools,” HURFOM, July 2005; “A Cartload of Sesame Seeds for a Child Education in Burma,” DVB, 6 June 2005).
Ethnic minorities and the rural poor are disproportionately underrepresented and discriminated against in the national education system. The SPDC bans the study of ethnic languages in all public schools, which has been viewed as a “political tool in the ‘Burmanization’ of ethnic regions” (source: Saw Ehna and C. Guinard, “A Dangerous Journey to Get to School: Why Are Students Fleeing the Burmese Education System?” BI, July 2005). Specific examples of the regime’s unfavorable policies toward ethnic minorities include the 1982 law on citizenship, which makes Rohingya in Arakan State essentially foreigners in their own country. In terms of education, the Rohingya, who are predominately Muslim, are prohibited from applying for posts in the public service or teaching in public schools, and are granted limited access to higher education. The situation has only worsened since February 2001 when the SPDC imposed a travel ban to Rohingya living in Sittwe, the capital of Arakan State. That they are prohibited from traveling freely means that Rohingya students are unable to seek higher education and professional training in the capital. Instead, they must study university level courses through distance education, which means little when they are unable to get permission to sit for the examinations in Rangoon (source: “Deprivation of Education in Arakan, Burma,” Kaladan News, 5 January 2005).
Since 2004, the military has forced over 63 self-funded Mon National Schools to close. Mon school closures occurred concurrently with the NMSP along with other ceasefire ethnic groups making demands for ethnic rights at the National Convention, the ongoing junta-sponsored constitutional-drafting sessions. The junta responded by forcibly shutting down the traditional Mon National Schools, which were formerly allowed to teach the Mon language and history alongside the SPDC-mandated curricula (source: “Forced Labor Campaign to Build High Schools,” Kaowao News, 11 January 2005). Some schools in Mon State have been forced to relocate. The relocation costs fall on the community with little to no compensation from the junta (source: Saw Ehna and C. Guinard, “A Dangerous Journey to Get to School: Why Are Students Fleeing the Burmese Education System?” BI, July 2005). In July 2005, when the SPDC forced a school in Lamine in southern Mon State to move, the community was offered 1.5 million kyat in compensation. The community, however, had originally spent nearly 20 million kyat to construct the school (source: “Mon National School Moved by SPDC,” Kaowao News, 20 July 2005). In other areas the junta has simply confiscated school property without regard for the effect on local students’ access to education. In Ye Township in Mon State, for example, soldiers threatened villagers not to maintain or repair their own schools and conscripted locals into a forced labor squad where one person from each household was required to work everyday to build junta-run high schools (source: “Forced Labor Campaign to Build High Schools,” Kaowao News, 11 January 2005).
Burma’s rural and ethnic minority children are also often unable to access a stable and secure education due to periods spent in hiding to avoid attacks or other abuses perpetrated by SPDC troops, including forced relocation and labor demands. These obstacles, along with high tuition fees, have meant that some students risk their lives to flee Burma in pursuit of education in neighboring countries. A number of young people have fled from Karen State to seek education in schools operating in refugee camps along the Thai-Burma border, where students can study according their ability and avoid the prohibitively costly tuition fees they face in their home villages (source: “Karen Kids Seek Good Education in Refugee Camp Schools,” Irrawaddy, May 2005). In 2005, the E.U. donated US$1.2 million to a UNHCR project focused on improving the education standards of Karen refugees in Thailand (source: “European Union supports Vulnerable Populations in and from Burma/Myanmar,” Financial Times, 7 January 2005).
Through international study grants, some students of Burma are fortunate enough to obtain an education from abroad. However the ability to access these opportunities is largely limited by the regime. In 2005, the U.S. also offered a one-year scholarship called the Humphrey Scholarship for students from Burma with five years experience in a particular field to study in the U.S. After the scholarship term, students are to return to Burma to train others on their acquired knowledge. Since 2000, six faculty and students have received exchange grants to study in Thailand (source: “US to Offer Scholarship for Myanmar Students,” Xinhua, 23 September 2005). The International Cooperation for Computerization in Japan also holds IT training courses for students from Burma in Japan. However, as with all educational opportunities, preference is given to those applicants with military connections (source: Education Report 2002, ABFSU-FAC, May 2003). Furthermore, students seeking to travel abroad must obtain travel documents, which are unduly controlled by the regime. The exception to the rule is scholarships designated to students living outside of Burma. In 2005, The World University Service provided funding to 115 students of Burma living abroad, many as refugees. The scholarships went to help cover the educational expenses of those deemed gifted and needy (source: “Students Living Outside Burma Get Scholarships,” Mizzima, 14 October 2005).
Even where fees and insecurities do not threaten a child’s access to education, the quality of education is often poor. Qualified teachers are lacking and facilities are generally in unsuitable condition. Though the SPDC claims to have increased its spending on information and technology (IT) education since 1988, only a few elite students and privileged schools in the Rangoon area can access IT programs. In the border areas, access to IT facilities is non-existent. Regardless, even with the level of education offered in Burma, few decent jobs are available for graduates. Gainful employment is limited to those with economic status, influence or military connections. Consequently, the sacrifices families make to send their children to school often outweigh the opportunities open to educated persons. In addition to a scarcity of jobs, education suffers from pervasive corruption, wherein exam proctors and university administrators accept bribes to turn a blind eye on cheating. As a result, few international institutions recognize the scholastic standards applied in institutes of higher education in Burma. (Source: “Burmese Education a Poison Plant,” DVB, 21 March 2005).
Low salaries coupled with a high level of systemic corruption create the incentive and opportunity for educators to abuse their positions of power. An average teacher salary is lower than subsistence wages. According to a middle school teacher from Tenasserim Division, teachers generally earn only 7,000 kyat per month, of which only 3,000 remains after they furnish the authorities with the required payment for sports fees, calendar fees and other taxes. The remaining amount is barely sufficient to cover expenses for basic foods and commodities. Therefore teachers must find additional means of survival, and often organize extra classes during nights or weekends to receive an additional income (source: Saw Ehna and C. Guinard, “A Dangerous Journey to Get to School: Why Are Students Fleeing the Burmese Education System?” BI, July 2005). High school students reportedly pay 3,000-20,000 kyat per month for private tuition. One report contends that the majority of high school education is actually taught outside of normal school sessions, and students who have neither the financial means nor time to attend additional classes are hard-pressed to pass end-of-year examinations (source: “Burmese Students Against Private Tuition Ban,” DVB, 14 February 2005). Children who cannot afford the supplemental classes are disadvantaged and discriminated against. In some areas where parents cannot provide extra payments, teachers cease work altogether or indigent students are expelled. As there is little consistency or regulation regarding the cost and quality of education, school and school-related fees fluctuate according to the whims of state and township officials. Finally, qualified and committed teachers who are disillusioned by the state of high school education frequently flee to neighboring countries in order to earn a livable wage under fewer professional restrictions (source: “Burmese Students Against Private Tuition Ban,” DVB, 14 February 2005).
Members of the academic community also face severe restrictions on their academic freedom of speech, political activities and publications. Teachers are forced to follow regime-approved curricula filled with propaganda. Moreover, given the country’s history of pro-democracy demonstrations, officials in Rangoon are paranoid of student movements, and the regime often arbitrarily shuts down schools and employs policies that limit the freedom of education. Students and teachers are routinely warned by the Ministry of Education against criticizing the junta and are banned from discussing politics. The junta actively forbids students and teachers from joining or supporting political parties or from engaging in any political activity, with the exception of joining the junta sponsored USDA, which is compulsory for all teachers. Teachers continue to be held responsible for the political activities of their students. Meanwhile, military officers and intelligence agents have been known to monitor classrooms throughout the country to ensure compliance. In short, there is almost no freedom of expression and assembly in the academic community, and scholars who fail to comply with state regulations face arrest, torture or even dismissal from their positions. (Sources: 2004 Education Report, ABFSU, February 2005; Country Reports on Human Rights Practices-2004, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, U.S. Department of State, 28 February 2005; “Deprivation of Education in Arakan, Burma,” Kaladan News, 5 January 2005). (For more information see Chapter 11 Freedom of Opinion, Expression, and the Press).
Burma became a party to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in August 1991. Having ratified the convention, Burma is obligated to put in place domestic legal measures that make primary education compulsory, free and available to all, as stated in Article 28, Paragraph 1(a) of the convention. These domestic measures were enacted in 1993 under section 20 of the Child Law, which states, “Every child shall have the right to free basic primary education in state schools and that the Ministry of Education shall implement a system of free and compulsory primary education...The Ministry of Education shall implement measures as may be necessary to ensure regular attendance at schools, to reduce dropout rates, and make arrangements for children, who are unable for various reasons, to attend schools opened by the state.” Despite these strictures, in its 2004 Education Report, the ABFSU reported that few children enroll in primary education and nearly half of those who enroll do not finish primary school (source: Year 2004 Education Report, ABFSU-FAC, February 2005).
The SPDC claims that it has taken proactive measures to fulfill its CRC obligations by working in conjunction with UNICEF to implement the “Education for All” National Action Plan that seeks to “facilitate children’s accessibility to education even in the remote regions of the country” (source: “Statement by His Excellency U Nyunt Maung Shein," Sixty First Session of the Commission on Human Rights, 14 April 2005). SPDC statistics indicate that: (1) primary school enrollment rates for 2002-2003 were 93.1 percent, and the percentage of pupils completing primary school was 63.8 percent; (2) there were 40,505 basic education schools throughout the country in 2004, an increase from 33,747 schools in 1988; and (3) the number of primary students has grown from 5.24 million in 1988 to 7.55 million in 2004 (source: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices-2004, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, U.S. Department of State, 28 February 2005).
International observers note that there is an average of only one primary school for every two villages in the Burman-dominated areas, while there may be only one school for every 24 villages in ethnic border regions. Of these schools, only 46 percent are equipped with sanitation, and as little as 1 percent receives potable drinking water (source: Saw Ehna and C. Guinard, “A Dangerous Journey to Get to School: Why Are Students Fleeing the Burmese Education System?” BI, July 2005). In 2005, Germany donated US$1 million towards UNICEF’s primary education program to improve the quality of education and provide basic necessities such as water and sanitation facilities to impoverished children in Burma (source: “Germany Gives UNICEF $1 Million for Children in Burma,” VOA, 4 February 2005).
Even in areas where schools are not in disrepair, junta forced labor campaigns affect primary school attendance. As a policy children are not usually forced into labor, however, if parents are unable to fulfill the regime-imposed work obligations they may opt to send their children on their behalf. Another factor contributing to poor attendance records and high dropout rates among primary pupils is military recruitment targeted at children. It is estimated that over 70,000 out of a total of around 350,000 soldiers in the SPDC armed forces may be children under the age of 18 (source: Child Soldiers Global Report 2004: Myanmar, Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, 17 November 2004). Given these factors, it should come as little surprise that over one third of primary school children drop out before grade five, a phenomenon that places Burma second only to Papua New Guinea as having the poorest rate of primary school matriculation in the Asia-Pacific region (source: “Burma Struggling to Meet Millennium Development Goals,” Irrawaddy, 7 September 2005).
While low standards of education and scarce resources are problems faced by many developing nations, Burma stands apart in the fact that the ruling military regime actively thwarts universal and advanced higher education (source: “Deprivation of Education in Arakan, Burma,” Kaladan News, 5 January 2005). The regime views political activity among secondary and university students as one of the biggest threats to its grip on power. Through their control of the curriculum, the junta actively stifles academic freedoms and critical thinking. Secondary school courses promote and praise the role of the military, while criticizing democratic structures, free-forming political parties and independent civil institutions. Instead of fostering respect for human rights, the curriculum promotes the militarization of the country.
Secondary education suffers from a multitude of flaws that contribute to the high dropout rate among secondary school students. A policy of achievement based on merit has been virtually replaced with one of patronage that awards only those students with financial means or military connections. School facilities and course materials are insufficient. Though the Ministry of Education reports that 1,300 multimedia classrooms had been installed in public high schools by 2002, nearly all rooms remain closed, with the exception of when dignitaries visit. Even if every multimedia classroom was up and running, the above figure represents only 2.2 percent of all public secondary schools. Schoolbooks and books in school libraries are often very outdated and politically biased. (Source: Year 2004 Education Report, ABFSU-FAC, February 2005).
Corruption flourishes with many students paying bribes in order for teachers to pass them in their exams. Furthermore, students have been subject to physical and psychological abuses at the hands of their teachers, particularly students who fail to attend the costly private courses taught after school hours. It was reported that pupils are increasingly leaving No. 1 State High School in Taungdwinggyi, Magwe Division in central Burma due to the abuse of teachers. Teachers not only beat pupils until their bones crack, but also use abusive and inappropriate language when addressing them (source: “Burmese Teachers Mistreat Pupils at Magwe Taungdwinggyi,” DVB, 23 August 2005).
In some areas, the local authorities have been inhibiting student access to private tuition teachers who supplement coursework and studies. Private tuition teachers often compensate for the inadequacies of the standard school instruction. In February 2005, the Township Education Officer (TEO) in Ramree, Arakan State banned private courses taught by a well-respected chemistry teacher. Due to the poor quality of teaching in Ramree, the students had requested additional courses by the chemistry teacher in order to prepare for the upcoming national examinations. When the TEO forced the sessions to end, 126 secondary students protested in frustration. (Source: “Burmese Students Against Private Tuition Ban,” DVB, 14 February 2005).
In January 2005, Prime Minister Lt. Gen. Soe Win called on the country’s youth to keep “national solidarity and the union spirit” alive at a public speech at the University for Development of National Races. Soe Win declared that the university had seven objectives, which included “upholding the causes of non-disintegration of the union, non-disintegration of the national solidarity and ensuring the perpetuation of the sovereignty of the state” (source: “Myanmar PM Calls for Keeping National Solidarity Alive,” Xinhua, 31 January 2005). Along this line, the junta continued to locate new universities, while moving existing ones away from urban centers, to areas within a certain proximity to military barracks. The junta initiated efforts to move the main campuses of Rangoon University and Rangoon Institute of Technology to areas up to 20 km outside the city. In November 2005 it was reported that the Agriculture, Forestry and Veterinary Universities in Pyinmana, Mandalay Division were relocated to Kyaukse, Pyin Oo Lwin and Mhaw Bi respectively. To prevent students from congregating, the junta has also been separating departments at large, urban-based institutions into multiple campuses in suburban areas. Facilities are relocated in areas far away from the city center, which are unable to cater to the basic needs of the student population. There are no hostels, no adequate public transportation, no subsidized restaurants or shops and there is a total lack of security on university grounds. This arrangement has augmented the expense of tertiary education making it even more inaccessible to students (sources: Year 2004 Education Report, ABFSU-FAC, February 2005; “Junta Gears Up to Shift to Pyinmana,” Mizzima, 3 November 2005).
As with primary and secondary education, ethnic minority groups face discriminatory practices at the university level. In an effort to control university students in Mon State, in July 2005 authorities set up new rules for Moulmein students who stay at private off-campus accommodation. The Town Peace and Development Council (TPDC) distributed the new rules for students, which included: 1) students must not be involved in any political party, and cannot read, save or possess publication or material against the state rule of law; 2) female students cannot go out after 8:00 pm and male students cannot go out after 10:00 pm; 3) students must sign out if they go out during weekends. The TPDC asserted that students who failed to follow the rules would be barred from the hostel (source: “University Students Face Tough Regulation,” IMNA, 2 August 2005).
The value of university education in Burma is further undermined by the business of buying and selling matriculation examinations. Businessmen sell micro-books containing answers for all subjects so that students can cheat on exams that are held throughout the country. Academic dishonesty is reportedly a widespread problem throughout Burma’s university system. Students who seek to pass exams must pay 300,000 kyat per subject (US$330) or 1.5 million kyat (US$1,650) for all subjects. In addition, exam proctors collect between 300 and 500 kyat from students to ignore cheating. In order to find out their mark on the exam, students are expected to pay 30,000 kyat in bribes per subject to the exam marker. High ranking officials, including ministers as well as professors and registrars of universities, are all reportedly involved in academic corruption. According to May Nyein, a senior lecturer of Dagon University in Rangoon who fled Burma in February of 2005, “It’s difficult to find a teacher on a university campus who is not corrupt…[and] 30 percent of the students are on drugs, and some students even trade drugs, including amphetamines, and another 30 percent are gamblers” (source: “Burmese Education a Poison Plant,” Irrawaddy, 21 March 2005). Meanwhile there is no guarantee that graduates will be awarded diplomas based on merit and students who have completed their courses through legitimate means have received devalued academic certificates.
In the past, universities were a site of active resistance to the military regime. As a result, the SPDC particularly targets universities. Universities remain subject to arbitrary closure and censorship by the junta (source: “Students Living Outside Burma Get Scholarships,” Mizzima, October 2005). Furthermore, the junta strictly controls the academic and political lives of students in an attempt to stymie activism. Scholars who criticize the junta or contradict regime policy are frequently prohibited from publishing articles in their field of study. The authorities have also persecuted students who publish booklets of poems or short stories fearing such publications will prompt political activities among students. Meanwhile, earlier crackdowns on the underground press by the regime reduced its activities. In 2005 the activities of the underground press were largely limited. Student unions are illegal and anyone participating in a student union is considered a criminal. Meanwhile many students continued to be forced to participate in junta-sponsored groups such as the USDA and the local women's affairs committees. In some areas, local authorities forced female students to wear the uniforms of the women affairs committee to school. Junta organized rallies were also held, with students and teachers both being forced to attend, often with the promise of better jobs or higher grades for their participation. A report from Kalay University in the northwest of Burma noted that the choice of students admitted into the honors-class was based on membership to USDA rather than on a student’s grades. Students are also selected for scholarships at many universities based on their family connections and affiliations rather than their academic merit. (Source: 2004 Education Report, ABFSU, February 2005; “Burmese Education a Poison Plant,” DVB, 21 March 2005).
In April 2005, the junta further restricted academics by declaring that civil servants, including university professors, must abide by a 13-point prohibition list in order to gain permission to further their studies abroad. Prohibited activities include communicating with pro-democracy dissidents in exile, launching a political organization and criticizing the regime by any means. Candidates who wish to further their careers through studying overseas must sign a seven page form that stipulates a penalty of five million kyat (US$5,555) or jail term in case of violation. Furthermore, signatories must have at least five guarantors to pledge that they will be legally accountable for financial and other penalties should the signatory violate the agreement. (Source: “Burma’s 13- point Prohibition for Government Staffs Studies Abroad,” Mizzima, 22 April 2005).
Meanwhile, Rangoon University was the recipient of US$500,000 worth of laboratory equipment given by the government of India, under a bilateral education cooperation program. The equipment is intended to expand the scientific research activities and upgrade the physics, biotechnology and information technology laboratories. India is also funding a business training institute, where Indian academics will train students from Burma in sectors of IT, banking, managing small- and medium-sized enterprises and English. (Source: “Myanmar Enhances Education Cooperation with India,” Xinhua, 27 June 2005).
Disparity between Civilian and Military Education
The regime operates several primary schools and institutions of higher education that are particularly reserved for family members of the military elite. These institutions are generally better equipped and more financially stable than the civilian counterpart facilities. Computer access, libraries and science labs at the military schools far outweigh the resources available at most civilian centers of education (source: Year 2004 Education Report, ABFSU-FAC, February 2005). Ensuring the superiority of regime-run institutions is a purposeful tactic of the SPDC to perpetuate long-term military rule in Burma. Due to the comparative quality of education in military institutions, an increasing number of civilian students have expressed interest in attending. Furthermore, students who attend military universities are endowed with certain privileges and are perceived as the future political, economic, military and social affairs leaders. Due to the high level of secrecy regarding these universities, statistics on enrollment and budget allocation are unknown.
The military operates 15 primary schools and several universities in Burma. The primary schools are reserved for the children of the military elite. These schools run summer camps with computer-training courses, English study and field trips. Students from these schools stand a much better chance at receiving highly-coveted international scholarships, which are awarded based on the student’s connections with regime officials rather than academic competence. Each university level program accepts only 100 students annually. To apply, students must obtain recommendations from military and SPDC officials. Candidates are then chosen by selection boards made up of military personnel.
The oldest university level institution run by the military is the Defense Services Academy, which was established in 1955 and is where many of the ruling generals received their education. Since then, the regime has founded the Defense Services Institute of Medicine, the Defense Services Institute of Nursing, the Defense Services Technological Academy and the Defense Services Technical College. In 2002, the military opened the Maritime University, under the auspices of the Ministry of Transportation. Here, a number of bachelor degrees are offered, including naval architecture, marine engineering, river and ocean engineering, marine electrical systems, electronics, and nautical science. The Aerospace Engineering University also opened in 2002 under the Ministry of Science and Technology, and offers courses in engineering with concentrations in aerospace propulsion and flight vehicles, and aerospace electronic systems and instrumentation.
Universities Supported by the Military
Sagaing Regional Co-operative College
University of Development of National Races, Sagaing
Mandalay University of Foreign Languages
Defense Services Technical College, Mandalay
Nationalities of Youth Resource Development Degree College, Mandalay
Defense Services Academy, Maymyo, Mandalay
Defense Service Technological Academy, Mandalay
Mandalay Regional Co-operative College
Myanmar Aerospace Engineering University, Meikhtilar, Mandalay
Yangon University of Foreign Languages
Defense Services Institute of Medicine, Yangon
Yangon Co-operative Degree College
Central Co-operative College, Phaunggyi, Yangon
Nationalities Youth Resource Development Degree College, Yangon
Defense Service Institute of Nursing, Yangon
Myanmar Maritime University, Yangon. (Source: ABSFU)
Prior to the military takeover in 1962, Burma had one of the highest literacy rates in Southeast Asia. Since then, literacy rates, especially among women and those living in the ethnic border areas, have steadily declined. At the time of the 1983 census, literacy rates stood at 82 percent for men and 71.3 percent for women. However, in ethnic states only 65 percent and 50 percent of men and women, respectively, were literate. Surveys conducted in the mid-1990s in refugee camps along the Thai-Burma border showed that less than 50 percent of Mon women between the ages of 20 and 30 were literate, 40 to 50 percent of Karen women of all ages were literate, and 60 percent of Karen women between the ages of 20 to 40 were literate. Some community leaders in the ethnic border areas claim literacy among women to be as low as 20 percent. In all areas, male literacy is notably higher than female literacy by 10 percent or more.
Precipitating factors for the low literacy rate among the ethnic minority groups include regime policies that result in low or non-attendance at school and high dropout rates. Children from an ethnic minority group have little incentive to attend primary schools because their classes are conducted only in the Burmese language, which many pupils can neither speak nor understand. Likewise, the SPDC fails to place a cap on tuition and school-related fees, which in poor ethnic regions decreases the number of eligible pupils. According to UNESCO, policies that discriminate against ethnic education contribute to Burma joining the list of 25 other developing countries that are falling short of the Millennium Development Goals’ attempt to increase literacy rates worldwide by 30 percent by 2015 (source: “Statistic Show Slow Progress Towards Universal Literacy,” UNESCO, 9 January 2002).
The military regime has made attempts to reverse the decline in literacy in recent years. Official statistics published by the SPDC note that the country’s literacy rate grew to 92.6 percent for males and 91.02 percent for females in 2003. While a lack of reliable demographic information makes precise measurements problematic, the British government’s Department for International Development challenges the junta’s claim, and estimates that the national literacy rate as of October 2005 was 85.3 percent for both men and women (source: “Country Profiles: Burma,” Department for International Development, 4 October 2005). The US Department of State offers an even harsher picture, and estimates that the functional literacy rate is closer to 30 percent (source: “Background Note: Burma” Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, U.S. State Department, August 2005).
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9.3 Situation of Health
"Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.” - Article 25(1), Universal Declaration of Human Rights
A low level of education on health and safety issues, poor sanitation, ongoing armed conflict and a dramatic rise in HIV/AIDS cases are all factors contributing to Burma having one of the most dilapidated healthcare systems in the world. Despite the fact that the SPDC doubled its 2003-2004 budget for the Ministry of Health, spending on health still amounted to only 1.2 percent of total expenditures by the regime (source: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices-2004, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, U.S. Department of State, 28 February 2005). In many of Burma’s remote rural areas, 75 to 85 percent of the population lack access to basic healthcare (source: “EU Approves 1.5 million Euros in Humanitarian Aid to Myanmar,” DPA, 16 June 2005). Likewise, according to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) 2003 Country Report on Myanmar (Burma), in 2002 the SPDC spent a mere six international dollars on public healthcare per capita, which represents a substantially lower figure than neighboring Thailand which spent 223 dollars per citizen. That same report notes that, on average, poor health shaves 6.3 and 8.4 years from the average adult male and female’s expected lifespan, respectively (source: WHO, 2005). Women, children and ethnic minorities continue to be disproportionately affected by the shortage of medicines and poorly-funded public healthcare system. In 2002, the WHO reported that, on average, 105 out of 1,000 children die before reaching the age of five. Leading causes of death among children are malnutrition, diarrhea-related diseases, tuberculosis, malaria, measles and HIV/AIDS. Many of the fatal diarrhea-related deaths, such as vitamin deficiency and anemia, are relatively easy to prevent with well-targeted support and funding.
While many health related problems in Burma could be curbed through low-cost preventative measures, the military regime has been remiss in raising the standard of nutrition, eradicating nutrient deficiencies and encouraging hygienic and healthy eating habits. Lack of sanitation and access to clean drinking water remains a major concern and a major contributing factor to the high rate of mortality among young children in Burma. Water and excreta-related diseases such as diarrhea, dysentery and trachoma are common in Burma as a result of unsanitary methods of waste disposal, unhygienic practices and unsanitary environments. Access to safe drinking water is estimated at 39 percent for rural populations and 36 percent for urban populations. Only 39 percent of urban dwellers have sanitary living conditions compared with 35 percent of the rural population (source: UNICEF, 2005). In 2005 UNICEF targeted anemia in women and children by addressing vitamin A and iodine deficiencies and administering a deworming medication (source: “UNICEF Calls for Greater International Support for Improving Myanmar’s Children’s Nutrition,” Xinhua, 8 September 2005).
Burma’s weak health sector suffered two major blows in 2005: (1) the withdrawal of US$98.4 million in international aid set aside for fighting HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis in Burma, and (2) the publication of a study that claims that strains of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Asia can be traced through intravenous drug trade routes to Burma. On the first note, the Global Fund, the world’s single largest funding body, withdrew much-needed funds on the basis of junta-imposed travel and import restrictions that prevented aid workers from providing critical medicines and accessing their project sites. On the second, in July 2005 the Council on Foreign Relations, a New York-based foreign policy think tank and publishing house, released a study that employed molecular epidemiology, a new technology that genetically fingerprints strains of HIV. The study asserted that nearly all of the HIV viruses circulating throughout the Asia-Pacific region are of the same genetic family, which first appeared in Burma. In response to the Council on Foreign Relation’s study, the UN Expanded Theme Group on HIV/AIDS noted that importation or origin should not be the focus of the battle against HIV but emphasized risk behaviors. The UN asserts, “Ascribing the origin of HIV strains and their spread to one country undermines the collective efforts required for an effective response, both regionally and internationally. This also alienates countries and governments and often entrenches the stigmatization of particularly vulnerable groups, thereby, further complicating efforts to stop the spread of HIV” (source: “Clarification on the Origin and Spread of HIV in Asia,” UN Expanded Theme Group on HIV/AIDS, 28 July 2005). Regardless, it is clear that in a country where 330,000 suffer from HIV/AIDS, 97,000 cases of tuberculosis are reported annually and about 600,000 people are infected with malaria on a yearly basis, Burma cannot afford the withdrawal of international support for the country’s HIV/AIDS programs. (Sources: Fact Sheet: Global Fund Termination of Grants to Myanmar, Global Fund, 18 August 2005; “Junta Pressure Forces AIDS Fund Out,” The Australian, 20 August 2005).
The shocking state of Burma’s public health sector can be traced to a variety of causal factors. Unfavorable regime policies, continuing armed conflict, and other SPDC abuses have forced thousands into the jungles as forced laborers and IDPs. People traveling and living in the war-torn jungles of Burma are exposed to not only tropical and semi-tropical maladies but also illnesses and injuries associated with widespread malnutrition, landmines and open military conflict along migration paths. The jungles are also breeding grounds for insects carrying malaria and dengue fever. The few who are fortunate enough to find employment within Burma face hazardous conditions within workplaces that lack appropriate health and safety regulations.
In 2005, Burma saw an influx in the number of unregistered medicinal drugs on the national market. The Ministry of Health has registered 7,840 kinds of medicines, but estimates that nearly 23 percent of the medicinal drugs on sale in the health sector are unregistered and not tested for quality. Other sources estimate as many as 95 percent of so-called legitimate medicinal drugs are part of an illicit trade network that smuggles unregulated medicines into Burma from Bangladesh and India (sources: “WHO Steps Up Action Against Fake Medicines,” AP, 11 November 2003; “Bad Medicines,” Irrawaddy, January-February 2003). A majority of the unregistered drugs are of substandard quality, mislabeled or simply placebos, and may be ineffective at treating a patient’s illness or, worse yet, result in his or her death (source: “Myanmar Urges Import of Quality Medicines for Safe Consumption,” Xinhua, 19 September 2005).
Access to Healthcare
Inadequate facilities, an insufficient number of medical professionals and inappropriate treatment all undermine the efficacy of public healthcare in Burma. However, the primary hindrance for the majority of the population is merely gaining access to medical treatment. Treatment is typically too expensive for many. Hospitals charge an array of fees including fees for beds, bed sheets, cooking facilities, and hospital security, all of which must be paid for by the family of the sick. Thus treatment within the healthcare system of Burma is consequently a privilege of only an elite few with resources or the necessary contacts. Huge disparities in access to health services and education also exist as a function of a person’s ethnicity, connection to the military and geographical location. (Source: “Dengue Endemic Hits Children in Arakan State,” Narinjara News, 22 September 2005).
The 19 March 2005 opening of the privately licensed Thai-managed Pun Hlaing International Hospital in Rangoon marked the first privately licensed hospital. Owned by Serge Pun and Associates of Myanmar, the three-storey, 22,000 sq. m., US $21 million investment will be staffed by 120 foreign and domestic physicians and specialists (source: “Private Hospital Has a Low-Key Opening in Myanmar,” DPA, 21 March 2005). It includes 95 beds, six operating theaters, and nine intensive care units (source: “Myanmar Opening Hospital at Par with International Standards, AP, 21 March 2005). The establishment of the Pun Hlaing International Hospital may ensure that Burma’s elite no longer have to go abroad for medical attention. However, it means little for the majority of the population. Public hospitals continue to lack adequate staffing as doctors neglect public duties to allot more of their time and attention to private practices. In justification, doctors cite insufficient salaries and inadequate staffing as a catalyst for their decision. At Kyauk Pyu Hospital in Arakan State, for example, a mere eight doctors are charged with caring for patients in a 300-bed facility. Delay in emergency medical treatment further increases the risk that patients either transmit or die from diseases that are otherwise treatable and preventable (source: “Kyauk Pyu Hospital Going Private Unofficially,” Narinjara News, 8 October 2005).
The public hospitals also suffer from a shortage of medicine and supplies leaving families to seek the necessary prescriptions from the private clinics. Additionally, medical facilities struggle to meet the everyday demands of blood banks and are ill equipped to handle large-scale emergency situations. The inadequate level of blood bank supplies was particularly clear after the 7 May 2005 bombings that left 19 dead and 162 injured, according to SPDC figures (source: “Blood Bank Calls for More Donations for Blast Victims,” The Myanmar Times, 30 May 2005).
Even where charitable organizations take on the burden of healthcare for some of Burma’s poor, those in need of care and treatment are not guaranteed stable and reliable access to it. A recent example in September 2005 involves SPDC authorities at Monywa, Mandalay Division closing down a local health charity, the Golden Heart health support association, which boasted more than 700 regular patients, many of whom were HIV/AIDS patients. While the authorities reported that the association failed to apply for an official license, local residents indicated that the charity was closed for repeatedly refusing to allow the facility to be used for political propaganda purposes. Local authorities threatened the staff workers with six months of imprisonment and donors with a three-year sentence (source: “Jealousy Begins at Home: Health Charity Closed Down by Burma Junta,” DVB, 19 September 2005).
“…while other factors such as natural disaster or mere incompetence may contribute to or exacerbate [food] scarcity… none can override the state’s role in denying the right to food.” (Source: Voice of the Hungry Nation, The People’s Tribunal on Food Scarcity and Militarization in Burma, AHRC, October 2000).
Despite Burma’s abundance of arable land, a report conducted by UNICEF and the Ministry of Health in 2000 revealed that 35.3 percent of children under five are moderately to severely underweight, 33.9 percent are moderately to severely underdeveloped and 9.4 percent are moderately to severely emaciated (source: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices-2004, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, U.S. Department of State, 28 February 2005). Likewise, the World Food Program (WFP) reported that in 2005 close to 15 percent of Burma’s 50 million people faced food insecurity. Thirty-three percent of young children are chronically malnourished and physically stunted. This number increases to 70 percent in the border areas (source: “UN Warns of Humanitarian Crisis in Burma,” Irrawaddy, 5 August 2005).
As a signatory to the CRC, Burma has an international obligation to combat disease and malnutrition among children. The military regime however is in part responsible for the exacerbation of food insecurity through regulations that disrupt food aid supply lines. Humanitarian organizations including UN agencies have suffered from a lack of access to their projects. Though the SPDC did agree to lift the 10 percent food tax, the WFP has never had to pay this type of food tax in any of their other humanitarian operations worldwide. Meanwhile, the WFP, which extends US$3.6 million annually for emergency food security programs in Burma, continued to face an array of permits, checkpoints, local taxes and other restrictions that created difficulties in delivering food. In August 2005, for example, regime restrictions meant that the WFP was only able to deliver 430 tons of the 5,500 tons of rice set aside for vulnerable people in northern Arakan State. As the people of Arakan State faced starvation, the rice reserved for them sat with the suppliers (source: “Instability Leaves Burmese Orphans at Risk of Hunger,” DVB, 24 August 2005). Contributing to the food crisis in Arakan State, where food insecurity is a particular problem due to the regime’s heightened restrictions on aid groups operating there, WFP food supplies in Maungdaw Township were raided in January 2005. One thousand sacks of rice were stolen from the WFP stocks (source: “WFP’s Food Aid Looted by Robbers in Arakan,” Narinjara News, 25 January 2005). The lack of food in Arakan State has resulted in orphans and poor children taking refuge in orphanages, monasteries and nunneries. However, very few wealthy monasteries are able to adequately provide for their needs (source: “Instability Leaves Burmese Orphans at Risk of Hunger,” DVB, 24 August 2005).
Since late 2003, the H5N1 avian influenza strain, otherwise known as bird flu, has killed millions of birds and scores of people across Asia. Although Burma is situated directly in the path of migratory birds that may be spreading the virus, according to the SPDC there have been no cases of the bird flu reported in Burma. In January 2005, the junta banned poultry imports from countries affected by the bird flu, including Thailand and Vietnam (source: “Burma Bans Poultry From Bird Flu Countries,” AP, 29 January 2005). Despite reports of thousands of chickens dying at six-mile hill in Moulmein, the SPDC continued to maintain that Burma was unaffected by bird flu. There were also reports of chicken deaths in Sagaing and Mandalay Division as well as sickly looking pigeons in Rangoon. The Veterinary Department of Mon State however confirmed in mid-March that the birds died of natural causes. Given the junta’s dubious track record at providing accurate information and covering up unfavorable news items, international health officials were skeptical. Meanwhile, the SPDC has not permitted international organizations to conduct human or animal testing inside the country. Furthermore, the authorities imposed a news blackout on sickly birds in Burma (sources: “Myanmar: The World’s Bird Flu Black Hole?,” Reuters, 9 October 2005; “Bird Flu Outbreak Feared as Thousands of Chickens Die in Burma,” DVB, 20 March 2005).
Nearly 13,000 cases of Dengue Hemorrhagic Fever (DHF), a mosquito-borne viral disease for which there is no specific treatment or vaccine, broke out in Burma between January and October 2005, a sharp increase from last year’s 6,000. There was a significant increase in dengue fever among children in Arakan State. The fever was previously assumed to affect mainly children during and after the rainy season particularly in the rural areas. However, the past two years have seen an unexpected increase in incidences of the disease among young people and adults in heavily populated areas from Rangoon’s southeastern area of Thaketa (sources: “Increase of Dengue Fever Cases Reported in Myanmar,” Xinhua, 24 October 2005; “Burmese Paper Reports Spread of Dengue Fever,” Myanmar Times via BBC, 26 January 2005). DHF is caused by a lack of sanitation measures and the unhygienic environments that are associated with poverty. The absence of proper strategic preparation measures has meant a lack of provisions at public hospitals.
Measles, a vaccine-preventable disease, has remained one of the leading causes of death for the 10.7 percent of children in Burma who die before their 5th birthday. In October 2005, UNICEF announced that it will work with health officials in Burma and other organizations in an effort to immunize 15 million children against measles in 2006. In 2004, Burma immunized 78 percent of children under age one against measles. UNICEF hopes that the largest-ever immunization program will reduce the infant mortality rate by two-thirds over the next 10 years, one of the Millennium Goals set by the international community. (Source: “UNICEF to Intensify Measles Program in Burma,” Irrawaddy, 10 October 2005).
With around 600,000 cases and 3,000 deaths reported each year, malaria is the leading cause of death in Burma, particularly among children under five. Roughly 71 percent of the population is at risk, with 284 townships throughout the country known to be affected zones. Hospitals and clinics near the Three Pagodas Pass border town were overcrowded in May and June 2005 with malarial patients from Burma. Seeking entry into Thailand to escape economic hardships and human rights abuses, the migrants primarily contracted the disease while traveling through the malarial-ridden jungles (source: “Migrants and the Onslaught of Malaria,” Kaowao News, 12 June 2005).
Like all insect transmitted diseases, malaria is easily preventable through low cost solutions such as mosquito nets and vaccines. However, the regime has failed to exert any effort to thwart the spread of malaria in Burma. Due to the proliferation of the disease, there has been an increase in the number of cases of multi-drug resistant forms of malaria. This has meant that much of the country’s poor are unable to acquire the drugs required for adequate treatment. Moreover, drug resistant malaria is fuelling a roaring trade in counterfeit drugs. (Source: “Drug-Resistant Malaria Haunts Southeast Asia, Fuels Illicit Trade,” AFP, 26 April 2005).
Burma has one of the highest tuberculosis (TB) rates worldwide, with 97,000 new cases detected each year. Multi-drug resistant TB, the incurable TB strain that does not respond to cheap anti-TB drugs, has increased from 1.5 percent in 1995 to 4 percent among new patients and 15.5 percent among previously treated patients in 2005. The US Campaign for Burma attributes the escalation in TB cases to the mounting HIV problem. According to WHO, 6.8 percent of TB patients are co-infected with HIV/AIDS and 60 to 80 percent of AIDS patients also have TB. (Source: “The Global Fund Pulls Burma Fund After Junta Breaks Promises,” US Campaign for Burma News Update, 19 August 2005).
Since 1997, the junta has adopted the Directly Observed Treatment Short Course (DOTS) strategy in treating TB, as recommended by the WHO. The strategy covered over 300 townships by 2004. Under the strategy, 60 percent of TB patients receive treatment annually and 82 percent of them are cured (source: “Myanmar to Get Huge Global Fund for Fighting Deadly Diseases,” Xinhua, 25 July 2004). However, the TB prevention and treatment program could boast only limited improvement in 2005, in part due to the withdrawal of Global Fund aid. The Global Fund allotted a total of US$ 17.12 million to fight against TB over a five-year period but withdrew the aid in July 2005 due to adversarial junta policies. Consequently, Burma has fallen short of the WHO global target of detecting 75 out of every 100 TB cases and administering treatment to 85 percent of those detected by 2005.
“The scourge of AIDS and HIV in Burma is being fuelled by a mixture of ignorance, denial and lack of government action—a dangerous cocktail that could affect a quarter of the population within the next decade.” (Source: “HIV-AIDS in Burma: A Time Bomb About to Wipe out Millions,” BP, 10 June 2005).
“With the exception of one serious outbreak in China, virtually all the strains of HIV now circulating in Asia—from Manipur, India, all the way to Vietnam, from mid-China all the way down to Indonesia, come from a single country…Several research times have proven that these various HIV strains can be tracked along four major routes, all originating in Burma.” (Source: “Myanmar Spreads AIDS in Asia, Study Says,” Reuters, 19 July 2005).
The HIV/AIDS virus was first detected in Rangoon in 1988, however, for over a decade military officials were in a state of denial, maintaining that Burma’s staunch moral fiber would protect the country from an HIV/AIDS epidemic. Thus, while Cambodia and Thailand introduced strategies in the 1990’s to control and reverse the spread of the HIV virus, the military regime in Burma prohibited the use of condoms, stigmatized and ostracized suspected victims and generally made little to no effort to prevent or treat the spread of HIV/AIDS. Though the military regime has recently come to terms with the fact that it may be facing a health crisis of huge proportions, its slow response has had dire effects and the UN and WHO agree that Burma has one of the most serious epidemics in the region. (Source: “It’s Time to Face the Blunt Truth on AIDS in Burma,” Irrawaddy, 9 September 2005).
It is now clear that HIV/AIDS can no longer be ignored in Burma. The number of HIV/AIDS cases has continued to grow at an alarming rate. The junta estimated that 177,000 people were infected with HIV at the end of March 2002. This figure nearly doubled by the end of 2004 with an estimated 339,000 cases. Estimates among international agencies are even more daunting. UNAIDS health experts estimated that 2005 HIV/AIDS cases between the ages of 15-49 alone may have totaled as many as 600,000 people (sources: “Taboos About Sex Hinder HIV Prevention in Myanmar, But Condoms Gain Ground,” AFP, 18 April 2005; “Myanmar Launches UN-sponsored Program to Prevent Mother-to-Child HIV-AIDS Transmission,” AP, 17 May 2005).
The sectors most at risk of HIV transmission are sex workers and intravenous drug users, and many of those who suffer from HIV/AIDS suffer from other sexually transmitted diseases. Voluntary testing revealed that 27 percent of sex workers in Burma are HIV-positive, as compared to 34 percent of intravenous drug users. While these represent national averages, there are pockets of higher infection rates within Burma. According to UNAIDS and WHO, 60 percent of drug injectors in Lashio, 47 percent in Myitkyina, 25 percent in Rangoon and 30 percent in Mandalay tested HIV positive in 2005 (source: “AIDS Epidemic Update: Asia,” UNAIDS/WHO, December 2005). In one village in Burma near the Thai town of Ranong, which has both a booming sex and drug trade, at least 10 percent of the male adults were diagnosed with HIV. The same is true in other parts of Burma according to HIV/AIDS expert Dr. Chris Beyrer. Beyrer contends that “[t]he explosion of HIV/AIDS in Shan State is frightening,” where he estimates that more than 10 percent of adults are HIV positive (source: “HIV-AIDS in Burma: A Time Bomb About to Wipe out Millions,” BP, 10 June 2005).
Aside from sex workers and drug users, international medical workers have raised concern that HIV/AIDS in Burma has been spreading extensively to lower-risk populations, specifically to women and children. The prevalence of HIV among the women of Burma is not only due to the sex industry but can also be attributed to unprotected sex with husbands or boyfriends who had been infected while injecting drugs or buying sex. At least 10,000 HIV-positive women become pregnant each year, giving birth to between 3,000 to 4,000 infected children. According to UNICEF and UNAIDS, children are increasingly bearing the brunt of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in East Asia and the Pacific (source: “In East Asia and the Pacific, Face of AIDS Becoming Younger,” UNICEF, 24 October 2005). In addition to mother-to-child transmissions, UNICEF estimates that there are at least 7,600 children living with HIV/AIDS in Burma with more than 3,000 new infections among children under 15 each year. Less than one percent of Burma’s affected children are receiving Cotrimaxozole, a powerful antibiotic that decreases the mortality of AIDS among children by nearly 50 percent, and only costs a few cents per day (source: “UN to Intensify Fight Against AIDS in Burma,” Irrawaddy, 27 October 2005). In an effort to assist the children of Burma, UN agencies plan to increase supplies of Cotrimaxozole, introduce HIV/AIDS prevention classes and increase efforts to prevent mother-to-child transmission. On this strand, in May 2005, UNAIDS and UNICEF, in conjunction with the SPDC, launched a program to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS in Burma’s 10 largest hospitals. UNICEF spends on average US$2 million each year to support HIV-AIDS prevention and care programs in Burma (source: “Myanmar Launches UN-sponsored Program to Prevent Mother-to-Child HIV-AIDS Transmission,” AP, 17 May 2005).
While a significant portion of the population is affected by HIV/AIDS, medical treatment remains unnecessarily unavailable and inaccessible. The junta conducted only 28,000 HIV tests in 2004, in a country of over 50 million (source: “There’s Good News and Bad News; AIDS in Southeast Asia,” The Economist, 2 July 2005). Due to the negligible budget expended by the regime for healthcare, HIV/AIDS patients lack access to life-prolonging antiretroviral drugs, which cost about 30,000 kyat (US$30). The situation is likely to improve little with the withdrawal of international aid. In August, the Global Fund, a Geneva-based financial body comprised of governments, business and private groups set up in 2002 to fight HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, announced its withdrawal of three grants totaling US$98.4 million over a five year period. All operations ceased on 1 December 2005. Funding in 2004 provided approximately 32.6 million condoms and distributed or exchanged 430,000 needles for drug users and free antiretroviral drugs for confirmed HIV/AIDS patients. According to Global Fund sources, new travel clearance procedures imposed by the regime limited the accessibility of project sites for international aid workers. Furthermore, regime restrictions hindered the procurement of medical and other supplies. These policies effectively prevented the Global Fund from fulfilling its project goals. (Sources: “Termination of Grants to Myanmar,” Global Fund, 18 August 2005; Fact Sheet: Global Fund Termination of Grants to Myanmar, Global Fund, 18 August 2005; “Junta Pressure Forces AIDS Fund Out,” The Australian, 20 August 2005).
In addition to funding shortages, headway on combating the HIV/AIDS epidemic is constrained by the absence of an independent media, which means that a frank discussion of the country’s problems is impossible. The junta is suspicious of NGOs and activists, and donors and aid agencies are leery of the military regime, which to date has not allowed any prevention campaigns on radio or television (source: “There’s Good News and Bad News; AIDS in Southeast Asia,” The Economist, 2 July 2005). The SPDC continues to suppress charitable activity based on political orientation. Local authorities in central Burma intimidate, arrest and imprison members of the NLD who distribute information on HIV/AIDS. For example, in Mandalay Kyaukpandaung Township, the local authority repeatedly harassed a local NLD youth member, Zaw Win, who had been distributing HIV/AIDS educational leaflets featuring the NLD Youth seal. Zaw Win was threatened with a five year term of imprisonment or a 10,000 kyat fine. While some NLD youth continued to help assuage the mounting HIV/AIDS problem, many others are deterred by the authorities’ systematic intimidation tactics (source: “NLD Members in Central Burma Intimidated but the Fight Goes On,” DVB, 1 August 2005).
If Burma is to meet the UN Millennium Development Goals, which serve as an agreed-upon blueprint for donor countries and leading development institutions to meet the needs of the world’s poorest, it must reach 80 percent of women in need of services to prevent HIV/AIDS transmission to their babies; provide 80 percent of children in need with pediatric HIV/AIDS and/or infection-fighting antibiotics; reduce the percentage of young people living with AIDS by 25 percent and reach 80 percent of children orphaned and made vulnerable by AIDS who are in need of support and protection (source: “In East Asia and the Pacific, Face of AIDS Becoming Younger,” UNICEF, 24 October 2005). Prevention is key to halting the epidemic, but greater measures must be taken to assist those already infected, which involves stamping out the stigma on which the HIV/AIDS thrives.
A June 2001 assessment of mental health problems among Karenni refugees residing in refugee camps in Mae Hong Son, Thailand, indicated elevated levels of depression, anxiety symptoms and post-traumatic stress disorder among residents (source: “Karenni Refugees Living in Thai-Burmese Border Camps Experience Trauma and Poor Mental Health,” Health & Medicine Week, 12 July 2004). Such studies indicate a sizeable portion of Burma’s population may be suffering from mental health disorders as a consequence of the ongoing armed conflict and the perpetuation of human rights abuses in Burma. The junta has not addressed the issue of mental health. Meanwhile the situation is exacerbated by a lack of resources and an inability to effectively care for and treat many of those who suffer from psychological disorders.
Support for People with Disabilities
There are very few resources allocated to assisting persons with disabilities in Burma. No laws are in place to ensure accessibility for those with a disability. Furthermore, there are a limited number of local and international organizations assisting people with disabilities in the country. A majority of those who suffer from a disability must rely exclusively on their families for support. Official assistance to persons with disabilities includes two-thirds of pay for up to one-year for a temporary disability and a tax-free stipend for a permanent disability. Military veterans with disabilities usually receive a civil service job at equivalent pay. However, the junta fails to provide any private sector job protection for persons who become disabled.
The rehabilitation of persons with disabilities falls under the responsibility of the Ministry of Health and vocational training is under the responsibility of the Ministry of Social Welfare. In the entire country, there are three regime-operated schools for the blind, two for the deaf, two rehabilitation centers for adults and two for children. In addition to those run by the junta, there are four schools for the blind run by NGOs. The ICRC runs clinics and outreach programs in conflict areas to provide orthopedic assistance to those who have lost limbs to landmines (source: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices-2004, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, U.S. Department of State, 28 February 2005).
International Humanitarian Aid
International NGOs began entering Burma in the early 1990s, despite suspicions that the junta would thwart humanitarian efforts in an attempt to divert aid into the regime coffers. Many NGOs argue that the recalcitrance of the SPDC makes their role in Burma all the more necessary. They further maintain that a withdrawal or refusal of aid would have dire consequences, particularly on the spread of HIV. While the junta continues to impose untenable restrictions on the operations of several NGO projects, officials have shown a preference in working with particular organizations such as the WHO, UNICEF and UNDP. These groups however are not immune to the junta’s restrictive policies.
With the exception of International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), NGOs wanting to operate in Burma must obtain advanced permission from the authorities. A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), however, is normally only granted after lengthy negotiations with regime ministries. NGOs are restricted from interacting with any political bodies or opposition groups. This stricture not only limits the type of domestic organizations that international NGOs may partner but also creates a barrier to accurate information and access to certain populations. Furthermore, NGOs are prohibited from entering parts of the country, which leaves them essentially barred from reaching some of the most vulnerable people in Burma. NGOs seeking to bypass the junta face severe repercussions for their attempts. Meanwhile, the diluted impact of international aid is further exacerbated by contingencies imposed by NGO donors who restrict funding from agencies that engage with the regime. The combination of the regime restrictions and donor restrictions on aid dispersal severely curtails the amount of foreign aid into Burma.
Following the withdrawal of Global Fund aid, in September 2005 former student leaders called for the international community to continue providing humanitarian aid to Burma. The group, which is popularly known as 88 Generation Students, is comprised of prominent student leaders who were implicated in the 1988 uprising and subsequently jailed for their activities. These activists, led by well-known advocate Min Ko Naing, requested that the SPDC remove the restrictions it had imposed on international aid agencies. The 88 Generation Students also called for the SPDC, pro-democracy opposition groups within and outside Burma, UN agencies and international donors to work together in order to foster an impartial, open and transparent monitoring system conducive to addressing the mounting humanitarian crisis in the country (source: “Burma’s Former Student Leaders Call for Humanitarian Aid,” Irrawaddy, 7 September 2005). The NLD welcomed the proposal of the 88 Generation Students. Likewise, the exiled NCGUB under the leadership of Prime Minister Dr. Sein Win offered its full support for measures amenable to cooperation and a renewed commitment to international humanitarian aid (source: “Burmese Opposition Groups Welcome Students’ Call for Cooperation,” DVB, 7 September 2005).
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