Cablegate: Eastern Burma: Grim Findings On Health and Human

DE RUEHBK #5564/01 2540925
P 110925Z SEP 06




E.O. 12958: N/A

BANGKOK 00005564 001.2 OF 002

1. The findings of a recent survey of health indicators in
eastern Burma reveal a severe health crises made worse by
continuing conflict and widespread human rights abuses. On
September 7, the Back Pack Health Worker Team (BPHWT),
chaired by Dr. Cynthia Maung, released their report entitled:
"Chronic Emergency: Health and Human Rights in Eastern
Burma." The report uses data collected in 2004 to
demonstrate a direct link between human rights abuses and the
worsening state of public health in eastern Burma. (Note:
BPHWT was established in 1998 by health workers in eastern
Burma. It is a multi-ethnic organization of mobile medical
teams working in conflict-affected to provide and promote
primary health care. End note.)

2. The survey was conducted among 2,000 households throughout
Kayah State, Karen State, Mon State and Tenasserim Division.
According to Dr. Voravit Suwanvanichkij, a researcher with
the Center for Public Health and Human Rights at Johns
Hopkins University, this report represents the first ever
attempt to collect statistics on infant, child and maternal
mortality in this region. The findings show the grim impact
of the regime's disinvestment in public health combined with
five decades of civil conflict, widespread poverty, and a
dearth of skilled health care professionals in the region.

Dismal Mortality Rates Resulting from Preventable Diseases
--------------------------------------------- -----------

3. The basic health indicators presented by BPHWT show a
striking disparity with official figures (already among the
worst in Asia). BPHWT's study found that basic indicators
such as infant and child mortality in eastern Burma bear
closer resemblance to countries facing profound humanitarian
crises such as Somalia or the Democratic Republic of Congo.

4. Official statistics provided by UNICEF show that Burma's
infant mortality rate is 76 (per 1,000 live births) in 2004,
compared to Thailand's rate of 18. However, BPHWT found that
the infant mortality in eastern Burma was 91 in 2004, down
from 135 in 2002. Child mortality rates (looking at children
under five years of age) were even more alarming. Burma's
official figures claimed a child mortality rate of 106 (per
1,000 live births) in 2004. BPHWT found that the child
mortality rate in eastern Burma was 221 in 2004. For
comparison, UNICEF reports that the 2004 child mortality
rates in the Thailand, the Democratic Republic of Congo,
Afghanistan and Somalia were 21, 205, 257, and 225

5. The survey found that the most common causes of death
among children under five years of age are from preventable
and treatable diseases: malaria (47 percent), diarrhea (22
percent), and acute respiratory infections (11 percent).
Additionally, BPHWT reports that 19 percent of children under
five in the households surveyed had suffered from malaria
within the preceding two weeks. Close to 16 percent had
suffered from diarrhea in the preceding two weeks.

6. The study offers similarly shocking findings in the areas
of maternal mortality rates, access to potable water and
sanitation, and access to reproductive health services. Post
will forward the report in its entirety to the Department.

The Population Pyramid

7. One of the more disturbing findings in the report is the
impact of the ongoing crisis on the demographic
characteristics of eastern Burma. The population pyramid (a
graph that show the distribution of population by age and
sex) reveals a notable absence of males between the ages of
15-25 years of age. BPHWT notes the striking similarities
between the current population pyramid for eastern Burma and
that of Cambodia in 1980 (shortly after the Khmer Rouge were
ousted from power). The report says that similar findings
are common in populations that have endured prolonged
conflict. The population pyramid also points toward another
worrying statistic. Among the population surveyed, 44.5
percent are under the age of 15 (compared to 33 percent
nationwide in Burma) while only 1.38 percent are over the age
of 65. The report claims: "This type of distribution is seen
in populations with high birthrates, high death rates
(particularly among infants and children) and a short life
expectancy. Similar patterns are seen in other least
developed nations in the world such as Niger, Haiti, and
Sierra Leone."

Linking the Health Crises to Human Rights Abuses
--------------------------------------------- ---

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8. The report states that as the BPHWT conducted its survey,
it became apparent that the major public health issues facing
eastern Burma were closely linked to the civil conflict and
widespread human rights abuses inflicted on the population -
such as forced relocation. One field medic observed: "What
is the point of building latrines and clean water systems if
the people will be forced to move." To demonstrate the
relationship between human rights abuses and public health,
in 2003 BPHWT began to collect information on human rights
violations and their resulting impacts on public health.
BPHWT compiled data on the prevalence of forced labor, forced
displacement, violence at the hands of the military, and
destruction/looting of food supplies.

9. Based on statistical analyses performed on theseQata,
BPHWT arrived at some appalling conclusions. For example,
children under five in families that had been displaced for
security reasons at least once in the previous 12 months were
2.5 times more likely to die than those in families that had
not been displaced. The report found that the
destruction/looting of food stores not only increased the
risk of malnutrition, but made individuals almost five times
as likely to suffer a landmine injury as they were forced to
forage for food. The report found similar links between
human rights violations and increased risk of contracting
malaria and other diseases.


10. While these findings are no great surprise, they
represent dramatic, systematically collected evidence of the
extent of the health crises in eastern Burma. The approach
taken by BPHWT to quantify the relationship between human
rights abuses and deteriorating basic health indicators
provides dramatic and indisputable evidence of the disastrous
impact of the regime's brutal repression of the ethnic
populations of eastern Burma.

© Scoop Media

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