"The Gathering Storm" (CPI partners, July 2007)

Decades of repressive military rule, civil war, corruption, bad governance, isolation, and widespread violations of human rights and international humanitarian law have rendered Burma’s health care system incapable of responding effectively to endemic and emerging infectious diseases. Burma’s major infectious diseases—malaria, HIV/AIDS, and tuberculosis (TB)—are severe health problems in many areas of the country. Malaria is the most common cause of morbidity and mortality due to infectious disease in Burma, and the country has one of the highest TB rates in the world, with nearly 97,000 new cases detected each year. Drug resistance to both TB and malaria is rising, as is the broad availability of counterfeit antimalarial drugs. HIV/AIDS, once contained to high-risk groups in Burma, has spread to the general population. Meanwhile, the Burmese government spends less than 3 percent of national expenditures on health. Against this background, the Human Rights Center, University of California, Berkley and the Center for Public Health and Human Rights, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, launched a research project in July 2005 to understand the factors that have contributed to Burma’s dire health situation and to the spread of infectious diseases in Burma and across its borders. We also wanted to see if it was possible to deliver international aid to combat infectious diseases in Burma in a manner that would be transparent and accountable, reach those most in need, and promote respect for human rights and international humanitarian law.