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Burma’s Health Minister Dr Pe Thet Khin proposed to parliament on Wednesday a threefold increase in pay for medical workers who are posted to remote areas.
The proposal – part of the 2014-15 National Planning Bill – is for the additional salary to be paid by the Ministry of Border Affairs and the relevant regional government, on top of their monthly State pay.
Pe Thet Khin suggested that increased pay and the reintroduction of a rotation system for rural postings might put a stop to the problem of medical professionals “deserting” difficult posts.
Extending regional healthcare represents one of the greatest challenges for Burma. International relief agency Médecins Sans Frontières has suggested that, in Burma, thousands of people have absolutely no access to healthcare whatsoever.
That lack of healthcare services in peripheral areas has proved to be disastrous. In Arakan State the UNICEF figure for malnourished children stood at 10.3 percent before the outbreak of communal violence in 2012. Now, with an estimated 115,000 people living in IDP camps within the state, that figure can only be higher.
In Kachin State, before a 17-year-old ceasefire broke down and fighting resumed between the Kachin Independence Army and Burmese government forces, the World Health Organisation noted just 1,000 registered health workers supporting a population of 1.4 million people.
Despite increases in healthcare expenditure over the past three years, a trend to be continued in 2014, Burma rates as one of the worst in the world when it comes to health expenditure as a proportion of GDP. Successive Burmese governments have relied heavily on international assistance to prop up its ailing healthcare system. Heath expenditure features at just over three percent of Burma’s GDP, the defence spend comes in at over 20 percent.
Retired director of the Ministry of Health, Dr Khin Maung Lwin, told DVB in November that “The [current health] budget is $14 a year per person according to the government’s data, but actually it is even less than that.”
It is estimated that one-third of Burma’s 30,000 doctors work for the government.