For over 60 years, the civil war in Burma devastated Karen communities. One impact has been impediment of health development. Most villages in the IDP areas have no access to running water, but must carry up river water in multiple trips throughout the day. Many villages have no toilet and poor sanitation knowledge—leading to the high rate of diarrheal and worm diseases. Lack of knowledge about the spread of killers malaria and pneumonia leads to high death rates from these two diseases. A study sponsored by John Hopkins in 2006 found that 1 in 5 children die before their 5th birthday. Mostly deaths are due to preventable illnesses. World Aid associate conducted a survey in 2009 finding an alarming rate of growth stunting at 61-77%. Growth stunting correlates to frequent illness and even diminished mental development.
The government in Burma does not provide health services to these areas. They continue to actively block international aid and development programs. The only way to reach these communities is with cross-border initiatives.
In 2011 World Aid provided toilets and some water piping to 35 homes and schools. World Aid associates provided education to construct toilets from local materials to 50 ‘least developed’ villages. The program includes working with local groups to build up a “village-based” public health system based on education and targeted low-cost public health measures. Growth stunting is particularly targeted by nutritional education and local food production.
The only source of health care available in IDP areas of Karen State is provided by local health workers with support of cross-border aid. Most of them are trained by senior medics. The senior medics have been trained in border-based seminars. The absence of a structured certification system and minimal oversight can lead to holes in the worker’s knowledge base and decreased quality of care. World Aid associates train and equip local health workers, as well as conduct onsite visits to some of the jungle clinics. Through continued relationship-building and mentoring, medics improve their skills and increase the scope of their practice.
For many, their ailments are too complex for diagnosis and treatment within their home community. These special cases must be assisted financially and logistically while undergoing care in Thai hospitals. In 2011, a World Aid associate provided logistics of transportation, translation and food support to over 40 referral cases. For these cases, World Aid works together with local charities. When local charities do not cover hospital bills due to limited criteria or cash-flow constraints, World Aid steps in to cover costs until the care is completed. Cases of 2011 included: Thallesemia, Parasitic Diseases, Tuberculosis, Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, Osteomyelitis, Nephrotic Syndrome, and congenital malformations.
About our Worker
Marci Haigh is an American RN who started volunteering with World Aid in 2001. Since 2004 she has been based on the Thai-Burma border working with the Free Burma Rangers and Partners Relief & Development. She is a proficient Karen translator and has developed many Karen language health educational tools.
 Chronic Emergency: Health and Human Rights in Eastern Burma. 2006, Back Pack Health Worker Team (http://burmacampaign.org.uk/images/uploads/ChronicEmergency.pdf)