International Community Should Focus on ‘Critical’ Health Conditions, Including HIV/AIDS Epidemic, of Myanmar’s Population, Opinion Piece Says
The international community "needs an approach that focuses not on fostering democratic governance" in Myanmar "but on the critical health and education needs," including curbing the spread of HIV, among the country's "long suffering" population, Morton Abramowitz, a Century Foundation senior fellow and former U.S. Ambassador to Thailand, and Jonathan Kolieb, a Century Foundation research associate, write in a Washington Post opinion piece. "Western economic sanctions, international diplomatic pressure and 'engagement' with the ruling junta by its Asian neighbors have produced scant progress," the authors write, adding that Myanmar's "52 million people endure increasingly appalling conditions." According to Abramowitz and Kolieb, at least 37,000 people died of AIDS-related illnesses in 2005, and more than 600,000 people are living with HIV in the country. In addition, malaria and tuberculosis are endemic in some areas of Myanmar, mortality rates in the country are "among the highest in Asia" and more than 30% of children under age five "suffer malnutrition," according to the authors. Myanmar's "deprivation also fuels instability across Southeast Asia," Abramowitz and Kolieb write, adding that more than one million people have "fled ethnic conflicts and poverty, taking with them high rates of HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases." Although moral "indignation is the practical extent of Western responses to these atrocities," a "better response" would be to provide "humanitarian assistance to a desperate people," according to the authors. They add that conditions in Myanmar warrant a "multiyear commitment on the order of $1 billion annually from international donors," both public and private, to "fund improvements in health and education." In addition, a "consortium of donors should be established to review projects and their implementation, to pursue cooperation from the ... government and to monitor the delivery of aid," Abramowitz and Kolieb write. "Imagining that a massive and sustained increase in humanitarian aid can produce political change" in Myanmar in the long term might "be a triumph of hope over reality," the authors write, concluding that a "program cannot be justified on that score. But if we can improve the lives of millions and avert further humanitarian disaster, it is incumbent upon us to try" (Abramowitz/Kolieb, Washington Post, 4/3).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.