Support Backpack Healthworker Teams in Burma

by Burma Humanitarian Mission
Support Backpack Healthworker Teams in Burma

In 2022, 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

Throughout 2022, the brutal impact of the Burma army’s repression and attacks on the ethnic minorities and civil disobedience movement continued unabated. 560,000 more villagers have been displaced since Feb 2021.

  • In June, Burma jet airstrikes in one village killed 10 villagers and wounded 15 more.
  • In July, in eastern Burma, monsoon rains swept over internally displaced person camps, creating endless mud, fouling clean water and disrupting access to food.
  • Thai officials will not allow new refugees into Thailand.
  • Thousands of villagers live in the most rudimentary conditions.
  • Many of the ethnic minorities no longer view the Federal government as legitimate.  They refer to them as the “State Administrative Council” or “SAC” and the Army as “SAC Troops”.  The “SAC” reference is part of how the minorities seek to delegitimize the current regime.


COVID 19 remains a threat to the Ethnic populations.  To combat it, BPHWT:

  • Provided telecommunication trainings for COVID-19 surveillance and oxygen therapy to field medics
  • Developed COVID-19 Surveillance tools
  • Distributed COVID-19 Prevention Supplies
  • Distributed COVID-19 Medical Equipment
  • Distributed COVID-19 Health Education Materials
  • Distributed COVID-19 Guideline
  • Conducted COVID-19 Health Education Awareness.
  • Set Up wash and sanitation activities in the fever clinic.
  • Provided COVID-19 ART testing and treatment
  • Provided Nutrition for COVID-19 Positive patient within the quarantine period
  • 71 medics received specialized, COVID-related training.
  • Medics treated over 10,000 confirmed or presumptive COVID patients during the past 6 months; fortunately, most cases were minor or moderate in nature.
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Here the medics speak in their own words about some of the patients and working conditions in Burma.

Medic 1 Northern Burma

"I’m the Field-in- Charge medic for a 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 an isolated village in northern Shan state, we found this boyl. Here, a medic has just given him some medicine for worms. She gave him the protocol treatment with mebendazoleWe told his family how to prevent worms from returning."

"His village does not have a good water supply. We stayed in the area for a week. With the help of the villagers, we built them a well. It should help this boy and others. 

"In a village, we held a clinic.

"Here, we take down the health statistics for the young boy. For his age, he is smaller and not as strong as other children. His mother says he is often slow and lethargic. We gave him a shot of B1 and other supplements to help, like Vitamin C.

"Malnutrition and food insecurity are constant worries for villagers like those here.

"In the village of Mxx, we had many villagers come see us.

"A medic examines a. She is a grandmother now and has a few problems. We found she had high blood pressure and talked to her about how to take care of that. We gave her some Atenolol to help for a bit.

"She also complained about her knees. There was a bump on her knee, but we could not fix it. We gave him some ibuprophin to help with the pain.

 “Here, a medic treats an infant. The baby had an eye infection. She helped the mother put antibiotic ointment on the eyes.

“We told the mother to wash her hands often when holding her baby. This is to stop the infection from spreading to her or others in her family. 

“Here, a medic talks to young children. She is telling them about good health habits. She is telling them to wear masks to fight COVID.”

Medic 2, Northern Burma 

 “In May, we came to an IDP camp. Here, we found a young girl with pneumonia. She had a high temperature and her skin felt hot. 

“We gave her anti-biotics and asprin to help with the fever. We told her mother to make sure she takes all the anti-biotic. 

“When we left 2 days later, she was feeling better. But, it will take more time for her. 

“In camps, there are no doctors. 

“In September, we came to an isolated village. 

“Here, a medic talks to a group of young children. In their village, there is not running water. We reminded the parents the importance of using latrines to help community health. 

“These children are waiting to get Vitamin A and deworming supplements.”

Medic 3, Northern Burma 

“Everybody calls me Mr Z.

“I’m a Field-in- Charge...far to the north in Burma. Since June of 2011, the Burma army has broke a ceasefire with my people. We’ve seen continuously attack since then. 

“I like what I do for my people. 

“I have been a medic for 13 years now. 

“My people have suffered war for a long time now. Many families live in isolated camps. Food is scarce. These children have never known their home village. In the IDP camp, we teach nutrition. Many are malnourished. Here, we are measuring the child to test their underdevelopment. 

“In May, we came to an IDP camp. A lot of people we waiting for us. We saw over 100 people in two days. 

“One challenge is teaching people about COVID. Some think it is just the flu. 

“Some people come to us who are ok. They like to be checked in case something is wrong. 

“In this camp, pneumonia and dysentery were the main treatments we did. We also helped deliver a baby! 

“In IDP camps, the people live in bad conditions. They have to walk to a stream for water and washing. 

“Here, we taught a health education class to about two dozen villagers, mainly mothers. We talk about the importance of cleaning and latrines. 

“Here, we check the baby boy for malnutrition. He’s pretty healthy and doing better than other children in the camp. 

“In an IDP camp, this woman came to us with her complaint about her sinuses and a fever. We were worried she might have COVID and told her she and her family should wear a mask outside their home. 

“We saw that she had a sinus infection as her forehead was painful when we touched it. We gave her some Doxycycline. 

“This woman came to use complaining about bladder pain. She also said she felt a burning feeling when she went to the bathroom. She showed the symptoms of a urinary track infection. 

“We gave her some anti-biotics. We told her to drink water and make sure the water is clean. 

 Here I am teaching a community health class to the families. I stress the importance of clean water, latrines, and washing hands. Washing hands is especially important for children to prevent worms. Many children are malnourished and worms makes their health worse. 

“In the village of NY we arrived late one day in September. No one had been here in a while. We were asked to set up a clinic right away. 

“Here, a medic is taking care of the first of a dozen young children. We treated a number of problems that night. Pneumonia. Dysentery. Worms. 

“The girl in pink had a cyst, but we waited for the morning to treat it. 

“The week before, about 30 families came to this village to escape the fighting near their homes. They are safer, but add to the needs of the villagers. “











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Our backpack teams continue in the field, providing vital and critical medical care, mother-child health care support and community health education and prevention activities. During the past year, conditions have significantly deteriorated due to the dramatic increase in violence by Burma’s army against the ethnic minority peoples in eastern and northern Burma – where our backpack medic team operate.

Since the Burma army’s coup on Feb 1, 2021, the threat to backpack medics and the villagers they support has dramatically increased. For example, through 2020, army attacks on a village occurred perhaps once or twice a week through the entire area. Since February 2021, the army launches multiple attacks each days – including automatic weapons firing, indiscriminate aircraft bombings and artillery shelling. In Karen and Kachin State, the Burma army fires artillery into villagers or employ fighter aircraft to bomb these villages on a daily basis. Dozens of civilians have been killed while over 30,000 villagers have fled their homes – creating an increased demand for backpack medics’ support. In these areas, the army inflicts numerous illegal and immoral activities, such as:

  • Random arrests
  • Burning villages
  • Shelling IDP camps and villages
  • Extrajudicial killings
  • Rape to intimidate villagers

Since early February, the Burma army has attacked numerous villages daily throughout northern and eastern Burma. A sampling of those attacks are listed below:

  • On May 28th, 2021, Burma army soldiers detained and then killed Mai Nyi Tun, 28, from Man Kan village; Mai Alone from Lwe Mon village; and Nyi Leik, 40, from Mai Sat village, all in Namhkam township.
  • On July 10th, Burma army soldiers seized and burned BPHWT medical supplies in Kyaut Phyar village.
  • On September 27th 2021, Ma Bung, a 9 year old boy, was at home with his mother when the Burma army fired artillery into their village (Man Hka). Ma Bung died as a result while his mother was seriously injured.
  • On November 19th, 2021, Burma army soldiers fired 81 mm mortars and other weapons into the village of Loi Jaw Bum. The soldiers later detained 3 Shan boys from Man Nawng village. The boys have not been released.
  • In December 2021, the Burma army increased attacks against villages in Mongko township, causing several thousand more villagers to flee after dozens of villagers were killed or injured
  • On October 25th, 2021, Burma army soldiers occupied the village of An Pha Gyi. The soldiers use villagers as human shields and threaten to burn anyone’s home if they leave. The soldiers then killed Saw Myint Aung, leader for the village

As a result of these and thousands of other atrocities, an additional 440,000 villagers have become internally displaced – creating an unprecedented demand for medical care, mother-child health care and community health education services provided by our Backpack Medics.

To further complicate and create a unique set of obstacles, COVID pandemic continues to induce suffering and death throughout the ethnic minority areas. Resources for education, prevention, testing and treatment are extremely difficult to find, even if funds were available. To exacerbate the pandemic’s toll, many villagers are woefully under-educated. Concepts on how viruses are spread are difficult for them to understand – creating a uniquely vulnerable population.

In the face of these challenges, our Backpack Medics have served their people. BHM supported 45 of the 114 total teams during the past year. 

In addition, BHM partners with the Backpack medics to monitor and address 5 key illnesses and metrics that reflect the most significant risks to the internally displaced and isolated ethnic minority peoples of Burma: Malaria, Dysentery, Pneumonia, Maternal and Infant Mortality rates (MMR and IMR).

Given the historical malaria morbidity rate, the 128,326 villagers supported by BHM’s backpack medics could have had 14,757 people suffer from malaria. However, in 2021, the medics treated 534 malaria patients – 14,200 fewer people than otherwise anticipated, if the historical malaria morbidity rate was realized. Reduced Malaria Morbidity Rates is a direct result of the CHEPP. 

In a similar thought process, given the historical Infant Mortality Rate (IMR), one could expect 143 of the 1,063 newborns not to survive. In 2021, we are very fortunate with just 5 infant deaths among our medic teams for a 1.4 deaths/1,000 births IMR. Nonetheless, the loss of any newborn remains a tragedy we are committed to eliminating. 

While the pandemic has prevented us from our annual trip to Mae Sot to meet with the medics, we have been able to virtually consult and review their progress through email, Facebook chat and detailed reports. We have been able to identify performance metrics in terms of team outputs and outcomes. The medic leadership team in Mae Sot has been able to share significant trend analysis and corrective actions. They have also shared special reports on the scope of their COVID education, prevention and treatment efforts. 

COVID has impacted our ability to meet in person with the medics. More significantly, Thailand’s response to the pandemic has been overwhelming. Thai authorities have placed numerous barriers that slow or deny the ability of medics to cross from Thailand to Burma and back, resulting in delays in reporting and delays in continuation training. In addition, as the medicines are purchased in Thailand and sent into Burma, the border constraints delay medical resupply.  Nonetheless the Backpack Health Worker Teams endure to provide healthcare to the people of Burma.


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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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Organization Information

Burma Humanitarian Mission

Location: Washington, DC - USA
Project Leader:
Jennifer Zurick
Salt Lake City, UT United States
$8,761 raised of $13,000 goal
74 donations
$4,239 to go
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