As Myanmar (also known as Burma) makes tentative steps towards democracy, sanctions have been dropped and the world is rushing to do business here.
MSF in Myanmar 2015
In recent years, conveniences such as mobile phone coverage, internet access and internationally linked ATMs have all improved or made their debut.
With over 100 ethnic groups, the southeast Asian country of over 56 million people is as diverse as they come.
But, this diversity has recently been the source of considerable ethnic tension and has fuelled intermittent protests and separatist rebellions.
Myanmar also has high HIV and tuberculosis rates, and MSF is the largest provider of HIV/AIDS care in Myanmar; treating over 33,000 patients in a country where fewer than one in three people who need antiretrovirals receive them.
Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) first worked in Myanmar in 1992
Ma*, diagnosed with advanced HIV and cytomegalovirus retinitis (CMV; an HIV-related infection that causes blindness). Ma was the first MSF patient to take valganciclovir, a landmark treatment for CMV.
“If I had not [attended] the clinic in Dawei, I would probably be dead. For the CMV, the doctor said that when he looked into my eyes, he could see a lot of lesions in my retina through the lens.
“But after four months of treatment, that has improved. I have not felt any side effects and I am feeling better now. Before, it was not like that, and I had to lie down all the time.
“Now I can go everywhere by myself. I even got my vision back and can read the text messages on my mobile phone.
“If I hadn’t got the treatment on time, I might have lost my vision within three months. I feel very lucky that I got the chance to take this oral treatment.”
*Name has been changed
“Many of the emergency cases are obstetric related, and most do not end so happily. As in many places, the tradition here is for women to give birth at home thus present to clinic when something’s gone wrong, such as a prolonged or obstructed labour.
“Usually by the time they’ve got to us, the baby has unfortunately died. With limited resources, our best option is usually to stabilise the mother and send her to the local hospital to complete the stillbirth there.
“Explaining the whole situation to the patient and their caretakers is a difficult task, and one I’ve noticed that is often forgotten in the mad rush, especially with the multiple language barriers. It wouldn’t surprise me if most of these women go to the hospital thinking that their baby is still alive.
“A significant majority of our hospital referrals are obstetric complications. Maternal and infant mortality rates are high, and we really need to do something about it.”
MSF’s work in Myanmar: 2015
In late July, cyclone Komen caused major flooding in large parts of Myanmar. It was the worst natural disaster in the country since cyclone Nargis in 2008. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) responded in Rakhine state and Sagaing region, both declared disaster zones by the president.
In Kalay and Tamu townships in Sagaing, and Minbya and Maungdaw townships in Rakhine, MSF teams distributed water and hygiene kits to reduce the risk of sanitation-related illnesses, and bed nets to prevent mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue fever, which are endemic in these areas.
Providing healthcare in Rakhine state
MSF continued consolidating the activities that had been stopped by the authorities for nine months during 2014.
These included supporting the Ministry of Health’s mobile clinics visiting camps for internally displaced people in Pauktaw and Sittwe, and in ethnic Rakhine villages, as well as medical activities in Maungdaw, in the north of the state.
In total, the teams conducted 84,689 outpatient consultations, supported vaccination campaigns for measles and polio and provided over 900 referrals to secondary health facilities.
Access to healthcare remained unacceptably limited for many people in northern Rakhine, due to the severe restrictions on movement imposed on the Rohingyas, and the stark absence of other national and international humanitarian organisations.
New project in Wa Special Region 2
In Lin Haw, we have opened a new clinic inside a local health facility. Since September, teams have been running weekly mobile clinics providing basic healthcare at the market in Pang Yang.
Teams also conducted general health and hygiene education and information sessions in two nearby schools.
Caring for people living with HIV
In 2015, MSF provided care for more than 35,000 people living with HIV in its projects in Yangon and Tanintharyi regions, as well as in Shan and Kachin states – our most substantial activity in Myanmar. The government has made great progress in the provision of HIV treatment but unfortunately only half of the estimated 210,000 people who need it receive antiretroviral (ARV) therapy.
Mental health projects in Myanmar and Indonesia
MSF teams offered medical and psychosocial care to more than 700 people who had been detained after being rescued from abandoned smuggling boats in the Bay of Bengal in May and June.
In August, MSF started a mental health project for Rohingya refugees from Myanmar in Lhokseumawe camp in Banda Aceh, Indonesia. In November, the activities were extended to two camps in Langsa.
Find out more in our 2014 International Activity Report.
At the end of 2015, MSF had 1,076 staff in Myanmar. MSF first began working in the country in 1992.