Support Backpack Healthworker Teams in Burma

by Burma Humanitarian Mission
Support Backpack Healthworker Teams in Burma

In 2021, Burma Humanitarian Mission supported Backpack Medics operating in isolated regions of Burma where the Burma Army continues to wage an aggressive campaign against the country’s ethnic minorities.

Specific objectives included:

  • Support 45 teams 
  • Support training 20 new medics
  • Support Medics with food 
  • Support 50+ Medic children to attend school in Mae Sot 
  • Provide Nutritional Support for Pregnant Women 

Impact of COVID: COVID-19 has spread throughout the ethnic areas. 

BPHWT and other humanitarian organizations are under-resourced to effectively prevent the spread, educate the population and treat the patients. Rapid Antigen Tests are in high demand, but cannot be found.

Many state trained health care workers left their positions to become CDM leaders– depriving those existing medical institutions with the capacity to treat COVID patients.

At times, the Burma government reaches out to urban and ethnic communities to provide education and support – but universal distrust of anything associated with the Army prevents any effectiveness.

Such distrust is instilled by the Burma army routinely seizing BPHWT and other humanitarian organizations COVID educational materials, treatment and supplies.

In northern Burma (Kachin State), the Army issued an arrest/shoot-on-sight warrant for a BPHWT team leader due to her aggressive COVID education, treatment and prevention efforts – causing the medic to flee to an isolated IDP.

Collectively, the increased fighting, Army checkpoints and widespread use of landmines renders the transport of medical and COVID supplies plus team movement extremely difficult.

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Burma Humanitarian Mission supports Burma’s ethnic minority backpack medics who operate throughout Burma’s conflict zones.  The people and villagers in these areas have endured an epic health crisis – where infant, child and overall morbidity and mortality rates rank among the worst in the world.  The United Nations had characterized the attacks and oppression by the Burma army as war crimes.

In 2021, we continued our support for 36 teams.  Recruited from the villages they will serve, these backpack medic teams traveled throughout Burma’s most isolated, oppressed and vulnerable areas – primarily western, northern and eastern Burma.  The medic teams travel to 9-12 isolated villages or Internally Displaced Person camps (IDP) each month.  The teams provide mobile medical care to isolated villages and internally displaced person camps.  We recruit Backpack Medics from the ethnic minority peoples, train new medics, match them with existing teams and outfit the teams with medicine and supplies.  In 2020, our 36 teams treated 19,225 patients.  They succeeded in reducing malaria morbidity from 11.8% to 0.5% of the population and dysentery morbidity from 2.8% to 0.3%.  Most notable, they reduced infant mortality rates from 135 deaths/1,000 births to 2.4/1,000 and maternal mortality from 7.2 deaths/1,000 births to 1.6/1,000.    

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Over the past 6 months, Burma Humanitarian Mission has supported the Backpack medics’ children with school and food support.  The Child Development Center – the school where the children attend classes – runs from mid-June through May each year.  At the start of the school year, children received the requisite school supply items:  uniforms, clothes, backpacks, lunch boxes, and stationary items (pens, pencils, paper, notebooks, etc).  Food items are purchased monthly.

The global pandemic has impacted the children’s education.  Thai authorities have imposed a very strict quarantine/isolation policy.  (For instance, travel between cities is largely prohibited.  When a person does travel, the traveler must quarantine for 14 days in the new location before mixing with the population).  In-person instruction has been curtailed at the CDC.  A few of the children live with the Backpack medic staff and have access to the internet; however, the majority of students do not.  For these children, each week, they collect paper copies of their schoolwork for their individual study in the CDC dorms where they live.  Older students strive to assist the younger students as best they can.  The medics’ staff also assist as they can.  

During this timeframe, 14 female medic trainees completed their course of instruction to become backpack medics.  The instruction occurred in an isolated, safe village along the Thai-Burma border, just inside Burma.  Thay Bay Hta is extremely remote, with no permanent electrical power or running water.  The women completed the 8-month course in December and have returned to their communities to join backpack medic teams. 

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In 2020, Burma Humanitarian Mission supported Backpack Medics operating in isolated regions of Burma where the Burma Army continues to wage an aggressive campaign against the country’s ethnic minorities.


Specific objectives we achieved:

  • Support 30 teams
  • Support training 20 new medics
  • Support Medics with food 
  • Support 50+ Medic children to attend school in Mae Sot
  • Support 2 fixed clinics 
  • Support COVID-19 Training, Education, Prevention and Support

The end of 2020 and start of 2021 bring a fresh set of challenges for the backpack medics.

On February 1st, Burma's military seized power after losing overwhelmingly during their November 2020 national election. 


COVID supplies – for prevention, diagnostics, and treatment – remain in short supplies. COVID test kits do not exist and vaccines are not expected for the foreseeable future.


The Backpack Medics face an increasing deficit of donor funds. Canada’s Burma Relief Center, Open Society Forum and Malteser International have reduced support by over $140,000. 

BHM is pursuing additional funding support. Without funding, each backpack medic program will have to reduce their efforts to care for their people.


The February 2021 military coup dynamically and dramatically changed the outlook for 2021.  The military has suspended all civil and individual liberties in the urban areas.  The coup wiped out the marginal progress made Burma-wide with the 2008 constitution and past elections.


The impact in the ethnic minority areas is yet to be seen.  At best, the military will be distracted with mass protests in the cities. At worst, any perceived restraint on the military will be gone. A temporary alignment of ethnic majority and ethnic minority interests may occur, but will be unlikely to last.



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In 2020, Burma Humanitarian Mission supports Backpack Medics operating in isolated regions of Burma where the Burma Army continues to wage an aggressive campaign against the country’s ethnic minorities.
  • Specific objectives includes
  • Support 30 teams & 2 fixed clinics
  • Support training 20 new medics
  • Support Medics with food 
  • Support 50+ Medic children to attend school in Mae Sot

Backpack Medics focus on these core areas:

  • Medical Core Program - providing responsive primary care to treat injuries, illnesses and disease.
  • Mother-Child Health Program - providing ante-, delivery and post-partum care.
  • Community Health Education and Prevention Program (CHEE) - provide community education and materials to reduce likelihood of disease and promote healthy environments.

Stories of the Medics:

"I’m Lway Poe Khaung.  I’m the Field-in-Charge medic for a Pa’laung backpack medic team in Northern Burma.  My team operates in northern Shan State, near the Kachin State border.  There is fighting in this area between my people, the Pa’laung and Burmese army.  The fighting has been going on since 2011.

"In 2020, COVID is a big concern.  I came to Mae Sot to get training and supplies.  We use our CHEEP to teach villagers about COVID. We teach them how to not get it or not spread it.  Here in Mung Ding Pa village, we put up posters to help the villagers.  Despite COVID we still treat all the same conditions."

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Organization Information

Burma Humanitarian Mission

Location: Washington, DC - USA
Project Leader:
Jennifer Zurick
Salt Lake City, UT United States
$6,933 raised of $13,000 goal
63 donations
$6,067 to go
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