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Breaking the Silence

Vendors, Burma (

Vendors, Burma (Donna Cymek/Flickr)

2. Health

The SPDC's policy of expanding the army to control the nation and not allocating sufficient state budget for health has also resulted in insufficient health infrastructure in Burma. In the face of widespread poverty due to the SPDC policies, it is very difficult for many families in Burma to afford even basic health services. Women and children often suffer the most as there are not sufficient maternal and child healthcare services. This is especially true in remote rural areas, where poverty is most prevalent and where services are most deficient. (34) Women are therefore often in poor health. Malnutrition and anemia are common health problems among women.

The following interview shows how women's health has been affected because of food scarcity caused by the state's rice quota policy (35):

"These days women face so much hardship as they have to sell so much rice to the government and are therefore left with not enough for the family to eat, so they have to mix the rice with "Wa U" (a kind of root) and corn to eat as their staple meal. I don't know why but nowadays 7 out of 10 women in our area have goitre and many children have got polio. Many people and children are malnourished."

Reproductive Health: In the family, women's lack of rights within the family is directly linked to lack of control over their reproductive rights. That means they cannot practice birth-spacing, and consequently, they often have unwanted pregnancies. In extremely impoverished conditions, they have no choice but to have dangerous abortions because the family cannot afford to have anymore children. Some die.

The state's spending of less than 5 per cent on health is directly linked to the poor health status of women in Burma. This means the SPDC has done little for women to get access to information on reproductive health, and to healthcare services including family planning. (36)

UNFPA's recent paper on Burma has proved how women are affected by widespread poverty. The paper says (37):

"The maternal mortality ratio in Burma is one of the highest in the region. WHO and UNICEF estimate the ratio at 580 deaths per 100,000 live births. Among the most devastating consequences of the lack of availability of contraception are the high level of abortion, which is not legal in Burma, and the number of deaths resulting from unsafe abortions. It is estimated that one in three pregnancies ends in abortion. Such an estimate would indicate that approximately 750,000 abortions are carried out each year, or about 2,000 abortions per day. It is estimated that the consequences of unsafe abortion account for around for around 50 percent of maternal deaths."

The paper also states:

"Approximately 8 percent of maternal deaths are attributed to women less than 20 years of age. Unmarried adolescent and youth are especially vulnerable to unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV, since reproductive health, including birth spacing, services have traditionally targeted only married women of reproductive age."

Pregnancy and Forced labour: Extreme poverty conditions and military oppression means that pregnant women frequently are forced to take dangerous risks with their pregnancies, that is, their lives and the lives of their unborn child. In conditions of extreme poverty, women cannot access the necessary health care, or make the necessary arrangements to get either the rest or the nutrition they need. On top of that, pregnant women are also forced into impossible decisions in order to prioritize and plan for the future of their children as the following example illustrates:

"There is a young woman who lives 3 houses away from me. She was 5-months pregnant and went to carry logs for the army from the top of the hill to the downhill to the road. I don't know where her husband was on that day. She went to do this by herself, as hiring another person to do the job would cost 1,500 Kyat, which she could save for her future baby. The task for the army was that everyone was given a pile of wood, and had to finish taking it down to the road as soon as possible. So she carried the wood down the hill, and walked up the hill to carry the wood down all day long. At one point, she had a miscarriage. It was a baby boy. She got unconscious and other men brought her back to the village. The medic was not at the nearest clinic, so I told people to send her to the hospital. So people carried her and walked to the main road where we could hitchhike a car and sent her to the hospital in China. She was saved."