The past few months have seen new conditions emerge in Burma – conditions which challenge the backpack medics in unprecedented ways. The ethnic minorities in eastern and northern Burma still suffer significant health problems due to austere conditions and poverty. As a result, health challenges, such as malaria, dysentery and complications from child birth, have dramatically higher mortality rates due to the lack of care and available medicines.
The poor health state of affairs is manifested in a variety of ways. Where there are no backpack medics, one in 7 children dies before the age of 5 while one in 12 mothers dies as the result of childbirth. Dysentery claims 1 in 5 people who come down with it.
The allure of reforms and removal of sanctions have exacerbated these conditions. The Regime is paving the way for international corporations to access to Burma’s natural resources: gems, lumber, hydro-power plus natural gas. In northern Burma states of Kachin and Shan, the Regime broke decades old ceasefires, attacking villages in order to seize land for development – causing approximately 100,000 people to flee for sanctuary in the jungles or China. In eastern Burma’s Karen State, the Regime is confiscating farm land, forest tracts and villagers homes to turn over to companies for exploitation. Villagers are forced to work for no pay for the developments.
Atrocities continue throughout northern and eastern Burma. Nusan is a backpack medic supported by Burma Humanitarian Mission in Kachin State. At 26 years of age, she was 8 months pregnant with her first child when the Burma army attacked the village where she was providing community health care services. She and the other villagers fled into the jungle for safety. While running, she stumbled, fell and her water broke. Her baby died from the trauma.
Multiple accounts abound on the violence inflicted on the innocent civilians in Kachin State. In October, the Burma army fired upon Kachin villagers who fled into China and set up a hide location. Among those injured was 7 year old, Bawm Hkaw. A bullet broke Bawn’s leg. Fortunately, a backpack medic team was nearby and treated Bawn, saving his life. Meanwhile, near Pa Wang, the Burma army attacked a village. After entering, they raped two women who had not escaped with the other villagers. A dozen other men were forced for carry supplies for the Army as it continued its march.
Conditions are barely better in Karen State. Recently, a 48 year old man was gunned down while gathering materials in the jungle near his village. A few days later, two other elderly men were arrested while walking to visit family in a nearby village. The Burma army accused the men of being spies and beat them, killing one man. The presence and activities of the Burma army prevented the backpack medics from helping these individuals. Between one to three incidents like these occur in Karen State each month – the area where the regime boasts of having a new ceasefire in place.
Yet direct violence is not even the primary threat to the Karen. In the Pa’an township the backpack medics confronted a flu outbreak caused by cooler temperatures and unseasonable rain. In one village, two-thirds of all students were too ill to attend classes. Backpack medics intervened and provided care for the several hundred people in the area. Given the poverty, malnutrition and scarcity of clean water, the flu can prove extremely deadly in these areas. Two medic teams combined to provide care for over 1,400 people, reducing the risk and consequences in the area.
Over the past year, Burma Humanitarian Mission provided 1 million doses of medicine and our supported medics used these drugs with tremendous results. While we are cautious and humble in claiming credit, BHM’s support to its backpack medic teams significantly helped a number of families.
In areas where the backpack medics operate, deaths from malaria are down by 48% and deaths from dysentery have declined 51%. Child mortality rates have declined from 20 deaths per 100 children to 14 per 100 children – a 30% reduction. Maternal mortality rates fell 4 fold compared to historical averages for those in eastern Burma lacking backpack medics.
During this year, BHM supported backpack medics visited 140 villages in eastern Burma, supporting a population of 49,500 men, women and children. They treated 20,170 patients for a variety of medical issues, primarily malaria, pneumonia and dysentery. Among these, they treated 2,832 cases of malaria. As a measure of the effectiveness of their community health and medical care efforts, malaria deaths were down 64% compared to the areas where there are no medic teams. This translates to roughly 400 to 500 people alive who most likely would have fallen to malaria without BHM’s support.
BHM’s 20 backpack medic teams assisted in the delivery of 819 newborns. Their presence had a positive impact on reducing infant and maternal mortality rates by 60-65%. The maternal mortality rate dropped from 1,200 per 100,000 births to 371 per 100,000 births – over a 75% reduction. Or, said another way, BHM supported medics helped some 16-19 infants and 5-7 mothers who may have otherwise not have survived.
BHM’s supported medic teams treated 1,680 people for dysentery and helped reduce its associated mortality rate by 65 to 70%. Historically, dysentery claims 1 in 5 people’s lives who come down with it in areas where no medic teams operate. Conservative estimates translate the presence of BHM’s medics teams means that some 240 individuals are alive today who otherwise may not have survived an encounter with dysentery.
Such a macro level view is informative, but we also know that stories abound on a personal level. These are heart-warming accounts that are powerfully inspired.
This year, we meet Chili, a Karen girl who grew up in Mon State. She meet us, the quickly told us her story and connection with Backpack medics.
There’s also Hsa. We attended her graduation from basic medic training in January 2010. When we meet up with her, she shared her experiences of the past year.
We also met a medic who didn’t realize we were from Burma Humanitarian Mission. Speaking of conditions in Karen State, he stated:
From time to time, we gain a glimpse of the powerful and positive impact Burma Humanitarian Mission has on the lives of medics plus the children and their families the medics selflessly serve. We are honored to be associated with them and the friendships forged over the years.
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