Sunday, September 10, 2006

RIGHTS-BURMA: Ethnic Minorities Starved, Denied Medical Care

The disgraceful behaviour of the Burmese leadership and the military continues. And the suffering of the minority groups escalates. So many have been internally displaced that the numbers border on the unimaginable. Yet, life does go on and the spirit of those on the receiving end has not been broken. Fear abounds but the desire for life and freedom has not been quenched.

RIGHTS-BURMA: Ethnic Minorities Starved, Denied Medical Care
To be a health worker along Burma's eastern borders, home to the Karen and Karenni ethnic communities, is to court death, injury or imprisonment, say doctors working in the area.

Even midwives have not been spared. One in her mid-50s was arrested and tortured, they add.

Such abuse by Burma's military regime on health workers are only part of a grim picture in the border areas that have been laid waste by the junta's policy of crippling the health and food distribution systems where the ethnic minorities live.

This continuing abuse has created a humanitarian crisis that places the Karen and Karenni victims on par with, or even worse than, victims in war-ravaged African countries like Rwanda, Somalia and Sierra Leone, say the doctors who are leading relief efforts inside Burma.

''Maternal mortality rates are higher than in Rwanda,'' Dr. Mahn Mahn said at a news conference here earlier this week. ''The internally displaced people in eastern Burma face a chronic humanitarian crisis.''

''Pregnant women cannot access obstetric emergency services. They cannot even have blood transfusions,'' added Dr. Cynthia Maung. ''Health workers cannot carry medicines to help communities. They cannot be identified as health workers. It is very dangerous for them.''

The doctors who are part of a novel health care service -- the Backpack Health Worker Team (BPHWT) -- made these comments at the launch of the first ever report on the health of internally displaced people (IDPs) in eastern Burma, where Rangoon's troops are locked in a decades-old battle with ethnic rebel groups.

The maternal mortality rates (MMR) among the IDPs is between 1,000 - 1,200 deaths to 100,000 live births, states the 81-page 'Chronic Emergency: Health and Human Rights in Eastern Burma.' The MMR rates in Somalia, by contrast, is 1,100 deaths for every 100,000 live births, is 990 deaths in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and 1,400 deaths in Rwanda.

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