Responding to Infectious Diseases (Conflict and Health, March 2008)

In January of 2007 an international scientific conference "Responding to Infectious Diseases in the Border Regions of South and Southeast Asia" was hosted by the Faculty of Tropical Medicine of Mahidol University in Bangkok, Thailand. The diseases of concern included HIV/AIDS, TB, malaria, neglected tropical diseases prevalent in Burma including filariasis, anthrax, Japanese encephalitis, and the emergent epidemic of Avian Influenza. What made this effort unique, and perhaps uniquely challenging, is that Burma/Myanmar was at the time, and remains at this writing, a deeply divided country, where scientific and humanitarian efforts have all too often been forced to choose between work "inside" the country and so with the approval or engagement of the ruling military junta, or "outside" the control of the junta, in partnership with non-Burman ethnic minority and democratic forces. Those presenting data on Myanmar often have little accurate or current information on the border regions and may face government censorship over what data they do have – while groups working on the borders often know a great deal more about their areas of operation – but may be unwilling to openly divulge where and in what domains they are active for security reasons.