Tens of thousands cut off from health care in Myanmar

Internally displaced people in Myanmar queue for a medical check-up at the Ohn Taw Gyi shelter. Many people living in refugee camps are cut off from health facilities. Photo by: P. Behan / UNHCR

Myanmar may be embracing democracy after decades of military rule and the situation seems ripe for development aid to start pouring in, but the picture is not as rosy for Muslims in Rakhine State.

Nearly a year after clashes between Muslim residents and the Buddhist-dominated army broke out in the western part of the nation, government restrictions on aid are preventing tens of thousands of people from access to basic services such as health care, Médecins Sans Frontières said on Tuesday.

The vast majority of the 140,000 people living in refugee camps in Rakhine are Rohingya, a stateless Muslim minority ethnic group whose members are not allowed to travel around the country and are thus cut off from health facilities, food, markets, farming fields and even clean water.

“What we have seen shows that current policies such as movement restrictions are having a detrimental impact on people’s health,” Ronald Kremer, MSF emergency coordinator in Rakhine State, explained in a statement. He added that that tuberculosis patients are dying because they can’t receive treatment, as well as pregnant women who must deliver their babies in unsanitary conditions.

The restrictions were first imposed in June 2012, and increased after further violence in October of the same year. The situation prompted U.N. agencies like UNHCR to temporarily pull out of Rakhine State after their staff was detained for trying to deliver aid to the refugee camps.

Faced with a humanitarian crisis, the United Nations in November doubled their appeal for aid to almost $70 million, but most of the money pledged to Myanmar by international donors is not going there but to other regions where the regime allows aid workers to carry out their projects with a reasonable degree of freedom.

Japan recently agreed to write off most the country’s debt and announced hefty loans to ramp up infrastructure development as the country is slowly waking up to development after decades of economic mismanagement by a chain of military dictators.

MSF called on the Myanmar government that displaced people, even Rohingyas which lack citizenship status, have proper shelter and access to health care.

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    Carlos Santamaria

    As associate editor for breaking news, Carlos Santamaria supervises Devex's Manila-based news team and the creation of our daily newsletter. Carlos joined Devex after a decade working for international wire services Reuters, AP, Xinhua, EFE and Philippine social news network Rappler in Madrid, Beijing, Manila, New York and Bangkok. During that time, he also covered natural disasters on the ground in Myanmar and Japan.