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Nursing Myanmar back to health
Long-ignored woes get attention, funds
As the country continues opening its doors to the outside world, historic visits such as last month’s by President Obama are symbolizing a new era.
A parade of high-ranking global health officials also has filed through the country, taking stock of what’s left of the health system and vowing to help rebuild it.
UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, last month named Mrs. Suu Kyi a global advocate to raise awareness of stigma and discrimination against HIV patients, a daunting problem in the country.
In the U.S. earlier this year, he said that he hoped new partnerships and collaborations with foreign universities would improve the quality of the country’s health system.
He added that infant, child and maternal health was considered a top priority.
He said the country is producing enough doctors, nurses and other health workers but that the quality was “a bit compromised” owing to a lack of funding.
“The economy, as you know, was not very good over the past 20 or 30 years, partly because of sanctions but partly because of some mismanagement,” he said.
The new government has quadrupled the health budget, but it is still low, and much of the increase went to paying health workers’ salaries.
National studies also are needed to provide a clearer picture of the true state of health, especially from restive areas where ethnic minorities have been at war for decades and travel previously was forbidden.
“The system here is so far behind,” said Eamonn Murphy, UNAIDS country coordinator.
Myanmar once had a strong health and education system and could recover, he said, “but it’s just going to take time, and it’s going to take a serious commitment from the international community — not just financial, but technical.”
Off the rocky, rutted dirt track in a faraway corner of the Delta where Ms. Nwe works as a midwife, UNICEF — not the government — has been running a program that provides vitamin- and mineral-packed sachets called Sprinkles to 3,000 children younger than 3.
The micronutrients are added to food to help ward off anemia caused by a lack of iron in an area of the country routinely hit by flooding and disasters. Cyclone Nargis, for example, killed more than 100,000 people in 2008.
Ms. Nwe quickly rattles off a wish list of improvements she would like to see: more health workers and supplies, better infrastructure and transportation for staff and patients.
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