Broken Health System Increases Mortality In Karenni/Southern States

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By Kantarawaddy Times

A malfunctioning health system and inadequate access to medicines have led to many preventable deaths in the Karenni and Southern Shan States, especially among pregnant women, newborns and children, according to Mu Angela, 2nd co-secretary of the Kayan Women’s Organisation (KyWo).

“There is a lack of proper health care and medicines in the conflict areas in Karenni state after the military coup. Children, pregnant women and nursing mothers don’t receive enough nutritious food and vitamins. In addition, IDPs (internally displaced persons) must flee from place to place, which increases the number of miscarriages. Sometimes pregnant women give birth prematurely or die after delivery,” she told Kantarawaddy Times.

As a result of the coup, health centres and hospitals in the region have had to close, while clinics in IDP camps and villages are poorly stocked with medicines. In addition, the inability to provide mothers and children with adequate nutritional supplements has led to widespread malnutrition, says Mu Angela.

The sit-tat (Burma army) often strikes civilian villages in rural areas indiscriminately and at all hours, she explains. “Pregnant women have no choice but to endure childbirth while fearing an airstrike or artillery attack. Some women, traumatised by the threat of sit-tat attack suffer a mental breakdown during childbirth.”

Maternal and infant mortality are unusually high in western Demoso, Hpruso, Pekon and Mobye townships. Between January and April, KyWO reported at least five cases of miscarriage or death of the child or mother after birth—a new record.

In January 2023, a woman in western Hpruso Township suffered a stillbirth in her seventh month of pregnancy, with the baby’s body incomplete. On 26 February, a woman in Lelhtun in Pekon Township suffered a miscarriage in the seventh month of her pregnancy. On 26 March, a woman from Nangpawlong died giving birth to her child. In March, a woman in downtown Pekon gave birth to stillborn twins while seven months pregnant.

According to Ma Mary, who provides care to IDPs in the western region of Demoso Township, at least eight children under the age of two have unfortunately died in the two years since the coup in villages where there are no hospitals or clinics. These children didn’t receive the medical care they needed in time. One child who suffered from severe diarrhoea for two days was finally taken to hospital, but it was too late and the child died when it could have been prevented.

Determining the exact number of mothers and children who died due to inadequate medical care remains a daunting task. Mu Angela suspects that the number of deaths in the remote and inaccessible areas of Karenni and southern Shan states could be much higher than what KyWo’s data reveals. She points out that in Karenni State, many pregnant women who faced transport problems relied solely on local midwives during labour. Unfortunately, this could mean they didn’t receive the medical care or equipment they needed, which could be a game changer during a complicated birth.

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