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.