Lives Are at Stake, Say Ethnic Health Organizations Asking for Direct Intl Support

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Ethnic health organizations (EHOs) have requested direct financial assistance from four Western countries to continue their provision of healthcare in remote and conflict-affected areas in Burma’s ethnic states.

Khun Philip, the director of the Karenni State-based Civil Health and Development Network (CHDN), said that the funds are necessary to carry out life-saving work, and that EHOs have approached the US, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK regarding the aid.

“We are providing healthcare in remote areas. If we don’t get the necessary funds and medicine, our work will be delayed. As a consequence, some local people may die from disease if they do not get proper medical treatment,” he told Kantarawaddy Times.

The international donor countries approached by the EHOs—the US, UK, Sweden and Switzerland—currently give significant funding to Burma’s Ministry of Health and Sports (MoHS) through the Access to Health fund, which is managed by UNOPS.

Ethnic health advocates point out that the MoHS does not provide services in many areas where EHOs work and have taken on the role of the trusted primary health providers. Yet the current funding structure has largely excluded EHOs from accessing emergency assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On May 6, the Ethnic Health Committee (EHC)—on behalf of EHOs—released a statement declaring it “urgent” that “donors begin providing funding direct to EHOs for COVID-19 containment” since they are the only health providers operating in these remote areas.

“Local people in remote areas have never seen a [government] hospital or medical clinic,” Nang Hseng Moon, deputy director of the Shan State Development Foundation (SSDF), told Kantarawaddy Times. “We have launched healthcare awareness campaigns there. We have invited them to get healthcare in our clinics. If we cannot provide medicine or healthcare to them, they may feel that they are without help. At the same time, their trust in us will decrease,” she explained.

She added that it feels as though healthcare in ethnic regions is ignored as more international assistance is directed toward government institutions, particularly during the current pandemic.

Health workers say that international funding began shifting away from EHOs in 2010, perpetuated by descriptions of Burma as a “post-conflict country,” despite continued military offensives in ethnic areas. In their May statement, the EHC called on the military and government to halt attacks in these regions, but clashes continue.

The 14 EHOs requesting direct funding include the EHC, CHDN, SSDF, Mon National Health Committee, Shan Health Department, Loi Tai-leng Health Committee, Mae Tao Clinic, Burma Medical Association, Backpack Health Workers Team, Pa-O Health Working Committee, Chin Health and Education Committee, Shan Youth Empowerment, Kachin Women’s Organization, and the Mutraw District Health Committee.

Their healthcare provision includes contagious disease prevention, child and maternal health promotion, reproductive health education, clean water and sanitation development, treatment for child malnutrition, distribution of preventative medicine, and the sharing of health awareness and news in remote and conflict-affected areas.

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