If Myanmar cannot control malaria, what of Burma?

Myanmar has operated only three Global Fund Grants in its history. The Round 3 Malaria grant was terminated at Phase 1 in 2007. Two million dollars was disbursed, but no results were found in the progress report at the Global Fund website. No explanatory notes were offered.

In the meantime, malaria continues unabated. Reports from a remote rural area observe that, “About half of the villagers in this remote corner of Kachin State are suffering from the mosquito-borne disease, but medical supplies provided by the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC), a Christian group, ran out two weeks ago.”

The website explains that villagers are reluctant to complain because, “In military-ruled Myanmar, saying anything seen as critical of the authorities can have serious consequences.” Instead villagers wait as they lack money needed to reach clinics and thus, resort to indigenous treatments.

Reports from the KBC indicate that they only had the resources to assist about five percent of the Kachin population in the fight against malaria. The mission group complained that, “There are many people we can’t reach, and it’s getting worse. It’s linked to poverty. Most of them can’t even afford mosquito nets.”

Myanmar does have an unsigned Round 9 malaria Global Fund grant pending. One wonders whether performance would be any better than Round 3.

Myanmar is part of the broader Mekong area where fears of malaria drug resistance are a constant concern. IRIN reports that, “Mekong countries of Cambodia, China, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam, show (malaria drug) tolerance … with the drug proving less effective and taking longer than previously to kill the parasite.”

IRIN noted that, “… studies in Myanmar had shown that parasites were still detected in some cases after treatment, taking more than a benchmark three days to be cleared …  This is an indication that there is resistance .” Furthermore, “only around 500,000 ACT courses are available annually – a fraction of what is needed to treat an estimated 8.5 million malaria cases.”
wikimedia-commons-myanmar.jpgAccess to malaria treatment and prevention is not a unique problem. IRIN reminds us that in the wake of a major tropical cyclone in 2008 the Myanmar population in affected areas was threatened with malnutrition and diseases due to lack of adequate access to food and medicine. This health neglect is endemic.

Will new elections help? BBC reports that a group of 15 nations, “known as the Friends of Burma, called for inclusive, participatory and transparent elections. Afterwards the secretary general said he had expressed concern that conditions in Burma do not measure up to what is needed for an inclusive political process.”

Without an inclusive political culture can the political will and accountability exist to control and eventually eliminate malaria? This is not just an issue for the poor and suffering within Myanmar since practices there enhance malaria drug resistance in the region and ultimately the world.  If Myanmar cannot control malaria, one wonders if Burma could.

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