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Providing health care for displaced families in Myanmar’s far north

21 Apr 2015

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Displaced people in Jaw 1 camp talk to IRC and OCHA about their experiences using the health clinic. February 2015. Credit: OCHA/Eva Modvig
 
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A project funded by the UN’s Emergency Response Fund provides access to essential health services for thousands of displaced people in Myanmar’s northern Shan State.

“I visit the clinic all the time!” said Ja Seng,* a 59-year-old woman who has spent the last three years living in a camp for displaced people in Myanmar. “At my age, there is always something that hurts,” she adds, laughing contagiously—something that she does easily, despite the challenges of being uprooted.

Ja Seng lives in Jaw 1 camp, along with some 400 other people. But the camp’s small health clinic has extremely basic facilities. Light streams through the clinic’s thatched walls, and a flimsy shower curtain provides minor privacy for examinations. But the health staff have welcoming smiles. They work for the local NGO Karuna Myanmar Social Services (KMSS) which is one of the main organizations providing assistance to more than 7,000 people displaced by the conflict in northern Shan State.

The KMSS staff ensure that the camp’s residents have access to basic primary health-care services five days a week. Every Friday morning, they are joined by a trained medical doctor, two nurses and a health promoter from the International Rescue Committee (IRC). This team provides medical consultations, conducts health-education sessions and, when necessary, supports emergency referrals for camp residents.

“We typically see some 20 patients during our weekly visits to Jaw 1 camp, and in some of the bigger camps more patients come to the clinic,” explains Dr. Soe Win Naing, the IRC doctor responsible for coordinating the project.

Since late 2014, IRC and KMSS, with funding from the OCHA-managed Emergency Response Fund, have provided primary and reproductive health services in 15 camps for displaced people in the area. This year, they will also begin services in four camps in southern Kachin State. Both organizations also rehabilitate and build clinics in several locations to improve patients’ access to quality care. Patients requiring specialist treatment are referred to local hospitals nearby.

Developing local skills

As the IRC project will end in June, one of IRC’s biggest goals is to build the capacity of KMSS staff to improve health services offered in the camp. To achieve this, IRC offers on-the-job training on skills ranging from diagnosis and clinical management, to natal and newborn care.

“I’m really happy with the training we are receiving. We have been learning about malaria and diarrhoea diagnosis and treatment,” explains Ms. Hkawng Tsae, a KMSS Health Assistant trained by IRC in the camp.

To complement health-clinic services, IRC also trains KMSS staff and camp-based volunteers to promote safe hygiene practices, such as hand washing. It also offers sessions on reproductive health to promote the importance of natal care, breastfeeding and immunization for children under age 2.

Critical health services are underfunded and affected by insecurity

Displaced people urgently need access to adequate health services. But most camps lack adequate medical supplies, and there are few qualified medical personnel who know how to safely store and administer medicine. Yet the sector is consistently and severely underfunded, with only 23 per cent of requirements met in 2014. This year, health groups will need US$5.7 million to help 120,000 people in Kachin and northern Shan States.

Renewed fighting broke out in January and has continued sporadically over the past two months. This conflict is having a critical effect on the delivery of health and other essential forms of assistance for displaced people. The unfortunate result is that many organizations, including IRC, are forced to intermittently suspend their activities, putting already vulnerable and sick people at further risk.

 

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