Amid the twin crises of crumbling democratic freedoms and swelling humanitarian need, the coup in Burma has crippled public services even as it exacerbated the need for such services, said Craig Hart, USAID Deputy Assistant Administrator for Asia in his Congressional testimony. By April 2021, three-quarters of the public sector health workforce was on strike in opposition to the coup, and the regime has led a campaign to arrest and harass hundreds of striking healthcare workers. As of December 2021, 50,000 health workers remained on strike.
USAID is working with NGOs, ethnic health organizations, and the private sector to deliver health services, especially in communities heavily affected by the public sector shutdown.
With regard to COVID-19, Burma has the lowest proportion of people fully vaccinated against the virus in Southeast Asia. Transmission of the COVID-19 Omicron variant is on the rise.
To date, the COVID-19 Vaccine Facility, or COVAX, has allocated but not yet delivered 10.7 million doses to Burma. The regime secured 60 million doses from the People’s Republic of China, India, and Russia and, as of February 20, has administered two doses to about 38 percent of the population; though it is not possible to verify regime statistics. “To boost vaccination rates, COVAX should deliver doses through independent, trusted channels, including civil society, ethnic health organizations, non-governmental organizations, and private sector sites,” said Deputy Administrator Hart.
USAID funds site readiness and preparedness for COVID-19 vaccine doses deployed to Burma. In addition, USAID supports training for vaccinators, reducing vaccine hesitancy, COVID-19 prevention, testing, and treatment in community clinics.
But COVID-19 is not the only health threat in Burma. The country’s tuberculosis, or TB, prevalence, at 338 cases per 100,000 people, is two times the regional average and three times the global average, per the World Health Organization. In past years, USAID increased TB cases identification and treatment in Burma, contributing to a 50 percent decline in active TB prevalence over the last decade. Since the coup, however, TB treatment and case notifications plunged by half. USAID will expand TB diagnostic and treatment services in the coming year to reach patients outside the public sector.
USAID remains engaged with its NGO partners to protect health gains in Burma. The United States will not stand idly by while the regime fails to meet the needs of the Burmese people.