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Survey Shows Bleak Health Picture for Displaced Burmese


A health survey of eastern Burma shows the region faces a humanitarian crisis. The survey draws a link between dismal health statistics and human rights abuses by Burma's military government against ethnic communities in the region.

Medical workers who slip across the Thai border into Burma report that in three Burmese states health conditions are close to those of some of Africa's poorest nations.

So-called backpack health teams venture across the border to deliver basic care to up to 150,000 people who have been displaced by fighting and poverty. On Thursday in Bangkok, they presented a report based on a health survey they carried out along the border in Burma.

The survey paints a bleak picture for the people in the impoverished region. The mortality rate for mothers is one of the highest worldwide with one out of 12 women likely to die while giving birth.

Say Mahn Mahn, the leader of the medical teams, says infant mortality rates in the area are more than double Burma's national average.

"The infant mortality rate in eastern Burma's conflict zone is higher than the national average of Burma - which is already the worst in Asia - is also very similar to Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo," he said.

The survey shows that malaria is the biggest killer - especially among children. Much of the population suffers malnutrition, often because the military forcibly relocates people and destroys their crops. Sanitation is poor and there is little safe drinking water.

Voravit Suwanvanichkij is a doctor who does research for the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in the United States and helped compile the report.

"This is really the first time that measures such as infant mortality rates have been collected - and a real good survey of the population has been done and you have seen the results. Many young men are gone - this is also seen in prolonged conflict - this is a humanitarian crisis," Suwanvanichkij said.

The report calls on the international community to increase pressure on Burma's government to reform and end human rights abuses. The researchers say that is the only way health conditions can improve.

The United States, the European Union and other countries have imposed economic sanctions on Burma because of the government's human rights abuses.

The government, however, says it is moving toward democracy and in the past few years, it has signed peace agreements with several ethnic groups it had fought for decades. But human rights activists and many foreign governments say attacks on minority communities and forced labor and relocations continue.

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