9. Rights to Education and Health

9.1 Background


“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care.”

- Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights


Burma has one of the poorest health records and lowest standards of living in the developing world. Health and education are given incredibly low priorities in the national budget, and lip-service to these issues often takes the place of substantial reforms or programs. The root causes of problems in these arenas, such as the effects of landmines and forced labor on health and the effect of school closings and censorship on education, are not dealt with in meaningful ways because of political considerations. Low salaries and lack of transparent and effective supervision has made it easy for corruption to flourish among medical personnel and educators. Patients more often than not have to pay a bribe to be seen by a doctor, get a bed in a hospital or receive essential medicine. Primary school students can pay to receive better grades or get private tutoring from their teachers. The value of higher education in Burma has deteriorated considerably as during the times that universities are actually open, students are given rush degrees in order to prevent any political opposition to the military regime from springing up on university campuses.


The political situation in Burma has a direct impact on the poor quality of education and healthcare available to the general public. The level of access a person has to health and education infrastructure depends on their economic status, geographical location and individual, family or ethnic group relations with the military regime. For example, a Burmese military officer and his family living in Rangoon have access to education and medical treatment that are unavailable to a family that is part of an ethnic and religious minority group living in a conflict area on the border. As yet, the military regime has been unwilling to address these inequalities to ensure that all people living in Burma, regardless of their ethnic group, religion, political affiliation, economic status or geographical location have access to adequate health care and education. (For more information about the health and education situations of specific populations such as refugees, women, children, political prisoners and IDPs, please see appropriate chapters.)


Government Spending on Health and Education


A 2002 report by Nonviolence International, Myanmar’s Expenditures on the Military, Health and Education, states that: "Myanmar’s military expansion comes at the cost of ordinary people’s health and education." According to this report, Burma has the highest rate of military expenditure, in comparison to health and education spending, of any other ASEAN nation. At present, the SPDC spends approximately 50% of the national budget on defense. In contrast, World Bank figures show that the regime allocates only US$ 0.28 annually to educate each child in public school (source: “Hard Lessons,” Irrawaddy, July 2003). The most recent statistics available in 2003 cited the SPDC’s expenditures on all civilian education as equivalent to less than 1% of the national GDP.


Government expenditure on public health has been cut even more dramatically than spending on education. Total government spending on health has declined by more than 70% since 1990, and in 1998-99 the SPDC’s health budget was equal to only 0.3 % of the GDP. (Source: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2003, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, U.S. Department of State, 25 February 2004)


9.2 Situation of Education


“Recent political developments among ethnic opposition groups have sought to encourage national reconciliation and the building of a multi-ethnic, pluralistic society. Such moves should include the abandonment of nationalist biases in the classroom in favor of curricula that reflect the multicultural reality of Burmese society. At the same time, pupils should receive an education that is broad and balanced; that promotes their spiritual, moral, cultural and physical development; and that prepares them for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of adult life in a multicultural society.”


- Dr Thein Lwin, principal of Teachers Training for Burmese in Thailand. (Source: “Learning in a Democracy,” Irrawaddy, 6 July 2003)


"The State shall pay special attention to the young and promote their education."


- Section 34, Chapter IV of the 1947 Constitution


Education in Burma has been severely affected by more than four decades of military rule. The military regime views potentially politically active university and high school students as one of the biggest threats to their grip on power, therefore all-non military education is treated as expendable. All civilian schools and universities throughout Burma suffer from a lack of resources and qualified educators, a problem found in many developing countries. Unique to Burma however, is the fact that the junta actively tries to thwart universal and advanced higher education. As a result, Burma has some of the highest drop-out rates in Asia, with 98% of students dropping out before they complete high school. (Source: “Hard Lessons,” Irrawaddy, July 2003)


In order to receive higher education in Burma several conditions must first be in place: the student must not be politically active or have politically active family members; the universities must be open; and the student must be from a social and economic group and have an educational background that makes higher education feasible. When these conditions are met, a student then faces a university system where teaching materials and classroom topics are heavily censored, group activities are restricted, and freedom of thought is generally hindered. Students are then rushed through courses that focus on memorization rather than critical thinking and upon graduation are ill-equipped to find quality employment. (See chapter on children for information on primary education.)


The U.S. Department of State’s 2003 report on the situation of human rights in Burma noted that school attendance and educational attainment had declined during the year. The report attributed this to rising school fees, as the regime continued to divert funding from education to maintaining the army. In 2003, the average teacher was paid only 7,000 kyat (US$ 7.00) per month, a wage inadequate to provide for basic living needs. As a result, many educators were forced to abandon teaching. In areas where families were not able to pay extra money for tutorials and other unofficial fees, teachers simply stopped working, forcing schools to shut down. (Source: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2003, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, U.S. Department of State, 25 February 2004)


It is also true that women and girls are less likely to receive an education than their male counterparts. When parents cannot afford to educate all of their children, they usually choose to send their sons to school while keeping their daughters at home to help with household work. This discrimination is most evident in higher education, with female students twice as likely to drop out as male students. (See also section in this chapter on Adult Illiteracy.) (Source: “Growing up under the Burmese dictatorship,” International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, August 2003)


Adult Illiteracy


In August 2003, the SPDC reported that 31,879 ‘illiterates’ had become literate (source: “Myanmar injects huge investment in border areas development,” Xinhua, 21 August, 2003). However, high levels of illiteracy, especially among women, remain a concern. A January 2002 report by Images Asia provides the following information:


"The 1983 census is the most widely quoted source of demographic information, and its figures for illiteracy, in the absence of others, continue to be used by many UN agencies. At the time the census was conducted, the measured literacy rate for men was 82% and for women 71.3%. However, it is not known to what degree these figures accurately reflected the situation in rural areas, since many areas had been excluded from assessment for decades by poor infrastructure and civil war. As the education system has deteriorated over the past 16 years since this survey was taken, it is likely that these figures do not reflect present levels of literacy. UNICEF estimated in 1995 that overall literacy had dropped to about 55%, and reiterated a figure of between 50 to 60% in its 1999 'Situation Analysis,' on the basis of the 'significant proportion of adults who claim they have never been to school.'


All figures appear to conceal significant variations not only between the sexes but also between different areas of the country. The 1983 census shows male to female literacy rates of 86%: 77% in the predominantly Burman divisions, compared to 65%: 50% in the predominantly ethnic states. Community leaders in some border areas, where there is very little data available, have estimated a female illiteracy rate as high as 80%. Surveys conducted in the mid- 1990s in refugee camps along the Thai-Burmese border showed that less than 50% of Mon women between the ages of 20 and 30 were literate and that 50 to 60% of Karenni women in all age groups were literate. Among both these ethnic groups, rates of literacy generally decreased with age, evidence that more young women are gaining access to education with time, a reason for cautious optimism. However, in both ethnic groups and among all age categories, male literacy remained notably higher than female, usually by 10% or more. Surveys conducted in Karen refugee camps during the same period showed similar results to those of the Karenni, with average literacy rates among women 20 to 40 years of age slightly over 60%, while men in the same age groups averaged nearly 75%. These studies also indicated that women’s illiteracy inhibited their access to non-formal education, including various kinds of training offered in the camps.


According to the women we interviewed, illiteracy in Burmese is prevalent in areas of Burma where ethnic languages are more commonly used, particularly among women who rarely leave their villages. Since teaching of ethnic languages is discouraged in many areas, for students, learning to read and write Burmese often means studying a second or third language. Even literacy in women’s mother tongues often is not perceived to be important in farming communities where it is does not always serve any immediate purpose in terms of vocation or life skills.


The most common reasons behind high illiteracy rates among women are non-attendance and drop out. Government attendance surveys in 1991 showed that one third of the population overall had not completed any standard of schooling and only 7% had completed 9th or 10th standards, with much lower attainment for women than men. Again, significant differences were recorded between urban and rural areas. Almost 77% of women in urban areas attended school compared with less than 56% of rural women." (Source: Belak, Brenda, Gathering Strength Women from Burma on Their Rights, Images Asia, January 2002)


High School Education


According to statistics from the SPDC’s Ministry of Education, as of July 2003 there were a total of 1,748 high schools in the country as a whole, to serve over 7 million high-school age students. Beginning in 2001-2002, the SPDC announced plans to initiate a six-phase 30 year plan to improve education (source: "More School-Age Children in School in Myanmar," Xinhua, 7 August 2002 & “Myanmar makes progress in higher education,” Xinhua, 9 July 2003). To date, however, there has been no improvement in addressing the many obstacles which hinder access to secondary education. In 1999, the military regime itself released figures showing that only 26% of 14 and 15 year olds in the country attended school. These percentages are believed to have been similar in 2003 (source: “Growing up under the Burmese dictatorship,” International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, August 2003).


Government high schools are disproportionately concentrated in urban areas. Most of these schools are overcrowded and many reportedly lack even basic materials and furnishings. Schoolbooks used often date back to the 50s or 60s because there is no money for new and updated texts (source: “Growing up under the Burmese dictatorship,” International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, August 2003). In addition, high schools do not have enough textbooks for all students. It has been reported that for each course students often have to draw lots to see who will get a real copy of the textbook. Those students who do not receive a textbook have to either copy or buy another textbook.


Students also suffer from the lack of qualified teachers. In 2000, the SPDC’s education research department released statistics showing that 60,843 primary teachers and 49,920 secondary-level teachers had been unable to receive teacher training. However, these figures include only those teachers who are directly appointed by government authorities. In many schools there is an extreme shortage of teachers which forces local education officials and school administrators to hire additional teachers using school funds or money collected from local residents. Many of these teachers, especially those teaching at the high school level, lack training and qualifications. Thus government statistics reflecting the number of teachers who have not received training are likely to understate the problem.


Students are also constrained by rigid and outdated teaching methods employed within the classroom. In Burma, learning is not student centered and students are expected to learn by attending lectures and memorizing facts. Students are not encouraged to participate in discussions, to critique material, or to offer their own knowledge and experiences during classes. This teaching style directly correlates with the current political structure, where people are prohibited from openly criticizing or questioning government officials or anyone of higher rank or status. (For information on academic freedom see chapter on Freedom of Opinion, Expression, and the Press.)


The primary reason causing most students to drop out of school is their parents’ lack of financial resources to contend with all of the required extra expenses and fees. Parents must contribute funds to purchase uniforms, schoolbooks, exam papers, and to maintain school buildings. In addition parents are forced to contribute annual ‘donations’ to finance student festivals, the parent-teacher association, sports events, and pay fees for their child’s compulsory membership to the regime-controlled Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA). (Source: “Hard Lessons,” Irrawaddy, July 2003)


Students also face a large financial burden when they are forced to pay for private tuition classes to supplement what they learn in the classroom. High school teachers in Burma make only an average of 7,000 kyat (US$ 7.00) per month, which is not enough to live on. In order to supplement their government salaries, most teachers are forced to teach private classes after school hours. Increasingly, students report that teachers intentionally leave out information they need to pass state exams from the classroom lectures, forcing students to attend tuition classes if they want to pass the course. In addition, many teachers reportedly favor those students who attend their tutorials outside the classroom and are more likely to give them better grades. High school students reportedly pay from 3,000 - 20,000 kyat per month for private tuition classes. One report estimated that between 50-80% of students attended private classes. Students who could not afford to attend these classes reported that they felt discriminated against. (Source: “Growing up under the Burmese dictatorship,” International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, August 2003)


In addition to the failure of the regime’s 30 year program to improve education, a joint project between the Ministry of Education and UNICEF has also failed to achieve positive results. The Continuous Assessment and Progression System, or CAPS program, has been implemented in schools throughout the country, and is supposed to assess a pupil’s progress throughout the year. Both teachers and students however, are reportedly unclear about what should be accomplished under the program. This lack of specific evaluation criteria has only led to increases in corruption, with students bribing teachers for higher grades. In the over 10 years since it’s inception, there has been no review as to the progress of the CAPS program. Instead, the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABSFU) notes that the regime has used the program to further its own agenda. ABSFU reports that students who wish to receive good grades must follow orders and participate in sports fairs and other activities organized by regime officials, as well as special performances for military officials and visiting dignitaries. (Source: “Hard Lessons,” Irrawaddy, July 2003)


Due to the deteriorating levels of education available at government schools, students and parents are increasingly turning to other educational options when these are available. In Arakan State, a large number of students are reportedly leaving government schools to enroll in schools run by Buddhist monasteries (source: Narinjara, 2002). In urban areas, private schools, which include a student hostel, are also becoming more common. Students attending these schools register with public schools to sit for nation-wide examinations, but take all their classes at private facilities. However these schools are too expensive for most high school students and their parents. In Rangoon, a year of private school tuition costs from 500,000 - 900,000 kyat. In 2001, the SPDC announced that students could not sit for their high school matriculation exams if they did not attend a government school. This move was a conscious effort to undermine the growing popularity of non-government educational options for high school. (Source: Education Report 2002, Foreign Affairs Committee-All Burma Federation of Student Unions, May 2003)


Students in rural areas often lack the chance to attend even an ill-equipped government school. Many villages only have “affiliated” schools, which require residents to pay for teachers’ salaries and other necessities (source: “Growing up under the Burmese dictatorship,” International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, August 2003). In border areas, some opposition groups have established their own high schools, however these schools almost always suffer from a lack of funding and other resources (source: Belak, Brenda, Gathering Strength Women from Burma on Their Rights. Images Asia, January 2002). In addition, ongoing armed conflict in border areas frequently interrupts students’ education and a number of high school-age male students join armed groups instead of attending school.


University Education


In July, the SPDC Ministry of Education reported that over 100 new universities and colleges had been established since 1988. The regime also reported that 777,174 students were studying at higher institutions in 2003 (source: “Myanmar Makes Progress in Higher Education,” Xinhua, 9 July 2003). Despite these optimistic claims, the reality is that only a small percentage of people in Burma are able to continue their education past high school. For most students, the biggest obstacles to pursuing higher education are economic. In order to support their families, many students have to quit school to take jobs that don’t require a high education level. Often young people are forced to migrate to other countries where there are more employment opportunities. Other people cannot attend universities because they have fled their homes or been imprisoned for political activities. According to a 2002 report by Images Asia, out of an estimated population of 10.5 million people between the ages of 15 and 24, only 374,112 were studying at the country’s 53 post-secondary institutions." (Source: Belak, Brenda, Gathering Strength Women from Burma on Their Rights, Images Asia, January 2002)


The erratic nature of civilian higher education in Burma since 1988 has deprived a generation of young people of the chance for quality higher education. Those students who have attempted to continue or begin university studies, have faced numerous obstacles in obtaining a quality education, including frequent school closures and low standards for materials, facilities and educators.


In the 8 years between the military coup in 1988 and the December 1996 student uprising, universities and colleges in Burma were open for only a total of 30 months. In August 1998, the SPDC allowed universities to open for one month and students were called to take examinations. Following this however, universities remained closed until June 2000.


When the universities reopened in 2000, the SPDC instituted key changes to minimize possibilities for students to engage in political activities on campus. In the new curriculums, one year’s course content was packed in to 3 months and 2/3 of the available courses were offered by mail. Before students could enroll they had to take an oath that they would not become involved in political activities or join any political parties. Many students refused to agree to these terms, and only 1/3 of previously enrolled students were allowed to re-enroll in 2000. Those students who were permitted to enroll found that they were not allowed to choose which campus they would attend, but instead were assigned to one by government authorities.


The military government also went to the extra expense of building university facilities on the outskirts of major cities near military barracks in order to stop students from gathering and protesting. The main campuses of Rangoon University and Rangoon Institute of Technology, which had been centers of student protest in the past, were moved 20 kilometers outside of Rangoon. Students from the provinces were being spread out among the new universities in order to prevent a concentration of students. The distance of the campuses prevented some students from attending classes regularly because they couldn’t afford transportation (source: "Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar," Economic and Social Council Resolution on Burma at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights 2001, Fifty seventh session, Agenda item 9, 12 April 2001). All of these constraints in higher education remained in place throughout 2003. In June, the regime delayed the reopening of universities after the summer holiday for three weeks following the USDA attack on the NLD convoy and the arrest of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other opposition leaders.


The regime’s paranoia continues to impose a stranglehold on the freedoms and civil liberties necessary for a high-quality education. All student gatherings including those of religious, ethnic, artistic, and cultural groups as well as departmental meetings and social functions are directly controlled or else prohibited by school officials. Two thirds of university students now study through correspondence courses, and those students who remain on campuses are subject to frequent security checks by guards. The junta recruits and pays students to act as informants on both their teachers and other students who express ‘revolutionary’ views. Professors have also been forced to conform to the military authorities’ way, informing on other instructors and their own students. Teachers are forced to join the SPDC’s civilian organization, the USDA, and attend military trainings.  Those who fail to carry out these duties lose out on any chance of promotion and may lose their jobs and risk being labeled ‘anti-government.’ These restrictions, added to the fact that many professors make only 20,000 kyat (US$20) per month, have led hundreds of Burmese educators to leave the country for work at universities abroad. Many other teachers of science and foreign languages have left their posts to work in the private sector where they can earn higher wages. To date, the regime has done little to address the causes of this brain drain and the resulting severe shortage of qualified educators.  (Sources: “Hard Lessons,” Irrawaddy, July 2003 & “Growing up under the Burmese dictatorship,” International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, August 2003)


While most ethnic groups in Burma have traditionally placed a high value on education, it is hardly surprising that today university degrees are seen as increasingly worthless. A large number of graduates remain unemployed after graduation. In a country in desperate need of engineers, doctors, educators and other professionals, few people who receive degrees in these areas are able to perform competently in these fields.  In addition to the low quality of instruction, employers are wary of hiring new graduates, who may have simply bribed the teacher to pass their courses. (Sources: “Within Burma’s Outward Smiles, Winces of Pain,” Boston Globe, 16 March 2003 & “Growing Up Under The Burmese Dictatorship,” International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, August 2003)


Disparity between Civilian and Military Education


The hallmark of the current education system in Burma is the discrepancy between education received by the military and their families and that which is available to the civilian population. Following the 1988 pro-democracy movement, the military authorities embarked on a campaign to strengthen the armed forces and commenced establishing military institutions for education. The government has yet to release information on military educational institutes. As a result, student enrollment and government budget allocation given to these institutions is unknown. However, a comparison of civilian and military institutes of higher learning clearly reveals that the SPDC has invested most of the resources allocated for education into military institutions while neglecting and oppressing civilian education.


While the civilian population has to struggle to pay education expenses for their children, the children of the military get higher quality education with financial support from the government. Although the SPDC manages all primary schools in the country, it also operates 15 primary schools open only to the children of military elite. During summer holidays, these schools run computer training, English courses and field trips. Upon completion of high school, these students are usually easily accepted into any Military Institute and are eligible for scholarships and scholastic awards. In order to qualify for this preferential treatment, older students, in addition to having parents with high-level connections to the regime, are also themselves required to join the USDA. (For more information on primary level education see chapter on children.)


The majority of university students in Burma are forced to struggle to pay ever rising tuition costs, while contending with insufficient facilities and learning materials. In direct contrast, members of the military elite are able to attend Military Institutes for no cost or for reduced fees. These institutes boast computer access, modern libraries, well-equipped scientific labs and other resources. Students at these institutions are also sometimes given the opportunity to attend short-term trainings given by foreign scholars and professionals in specific subjects. While civilian high schools and universities have faced frequent closures since the 1988 military coup, military institutions have remained open. As a result, to some degree military school graduates have been trained to run the civilian education system, and reportedly a third of the graduates of military schools enter civilian universities as lecturers and tutors.


At the post-secondary level, the regime established the Defense Services Academy (DSA) in 1955, where many of the ruling generals received their education.  More recently, the junta has established the Defense Services Institute of Medicine, the Defense Services Institute of Nursing, the Defense Services Technological Academy and the Defense Services Technical Colleges. In 2002, the Government opened the Maritime University which operates under the auspices of the Ministry of Transportation. This university offers bachelors degrees in engineering with concentrations in naval architecture, marine engineering, river and ocean engineering and marine electrical systems and electronics. The Maritime University also offers a bachelors of Science degree specializing in nautical science. An Aerospace Engineering University was also opened in 2002 by the Ministry of Science and Technology. This institution offers undergraduate degrees in engineering with concentrations in aerospace propulsion and flight vehicles, and aerospace electronic systems and instrumentation. Entrance into these programs is highly competitive, and only 100 students are accepted annually for each program. Students who are able to obtain recommendations from military gazette officers or have other high-level military connections have a distinct advantage in the application process, as the selection boards for entrance into these programs are run by military officials. In addition, a number of graduate programs at civilian universities are only open to students from a military background.


Due to the poor quality of civilian education, students from non-military backgrounds have become interested in applying to military institutes. While civilian students may be accepted into military institutes, the government has created a strict system of application, which includes mandatory recommendations from various government officials, including military officials. This system ensures that the applicants, and the applicants’ relatives, have had no history with opposition political parties and no criminal history. The applicants must also promise not to be involved in politics and pledge to serve in the army for a number of years upon graduating. In some universities, which are affiliated with but not directly under the auspices of the military government, students are screened for such things as USDA membership and political affiliations before they are allowed to take entrance exams. Students who attend these universities are also required to go into military or government service upon graduating. Students who are related to the military elite are favored above civilian applicants and in many cases military students do not have to pay tuition, unlike civilian students.


Following graduation, those students loyal to the military are rewarded with educational and employment opportunities not open to the public. The military government provides well for its army students and gives them stipends, scholarships, and for the very elite, chances to study abroad.


In addition, members of the military elite are also able to attend diploma trainings and post-graduate programs at civilian universities with financial support from Defense Services. Due to the high cost of these programs, which include courses for languages, computer science, and technical subjects, civilian students who do not receive government support are usually unable to enroll. (Source: Education Report 2002, Foreign Affairs Committee-All Burma Federation of Student Unions. May 2003 & “Hard lessons,” Irrawaddy, July 2003)


Universities Supported by the Military


(1) Sagaing Regional Co-operative College
(2) University of Development of National Races, Sagaing
(3) Mandalay University of Foreign Languages
(4) Defense Services Technical College, Mandalay
(5) Nationalities of Youth Resource Development Degree College, Mandalay
(6) Defense Services Academy, Maymyo, Mandalay
(7) Defense Service Technological Academy, Mandalay
(8) Mandalay Regional Co-operative College
(9) Myanmar Aerospace Engineering University, Meikhtilar, Mandalay
(10) Yangon University of Foreign Languages
(11) Defense Services Institute of Medicine, Yangon
(12) Yangon Co-operative Degree College
(13) Central Co-operative College, Phaunggyi, Yangon
(14) Nationalities Youth Resource Development Degree College, Yangon
(15) Defense Service Institute of Nursing, Yangon
(16) Myanmar Maritime University, Yangon. (Source: ABSFU)


Access to IT Education


In January 2001, the SPDC launched an official program for ‘e-education.’ Prior to this the government had been pressuring public high schools to build multi-media classrooms. In January 2003, Secretary General Khin Nyunt announced that 1,300 government high schools had built multi-media classrooms. However, even if these numbers are accurate, this still represents only 2.2% of the 58,082 high schools that the government claims to run throughout the nation. As only 7.5% of the government budget goes towards education, government officials generally force teachers and parents to fundraise or contribute their own money to build these IT facilities. Many parents reportedly were required to pay 5,000 to 10,000 kyat each towards the cost of these multi-media classrooms.


In some cases when school administrators are unable to collect enough money to build these multi-media classrooms, they resort to temporarily renting computers and other IT equipment from other schools or corporations. This equipment remains in place only long enough for government authorities to host official opening ceremonies and then computers and other resources are often returned. Even those schools that are able to purchase this equipment often do not have the funds to maintain it, and in many cases these multi-media classrooms are shut down soon after opening.


In border areas, IT facilities are non-existent, and students living in these areas, especially those who are members of ethnic minority groups, are extremely unlikely to ever have access to computers. Even in urban areas, most students have little chance to use computers, unless their parents can afford to enroll them in expensive private courses. Students are also hampered by government restrictions on Internet access that apply throughout the country. (For more information on restrictions on the internet see chapter on Freedom of Opinion, Expression, and the Press.)


Burma receives the greatest amount of assistance in IT education through the Center for the International Cooperation for Computerization (CICC) from Japan. The CICC regularly holds IT training courses in Japan for Burmese students. However these programs are open only to members of the government organized "Myanmar Computer Science Association". As with most other coveted educational opportunities, preference is always given to those applicants with connections to the military elite. (Source: Education Report 2002, Foreign Affairs Committee-ABFSU, May 2003)


Updates on Education


More fees for students and teachers in Shan State


In January, every primary, middle and high school in Namtu Township, Shan State was ordered to erect a stone pillar in front of the school by the township authorities. Teachers were told to collect 300 kyat from each student to build this pillar. When students could not afford to pay these fees, the teachers had to use their own money. A female teacher from a Palaung village reported on the difficulties of being a teacher. “I received only 8,000 kyat per month from government. It is not enough for one month.” Villagers also have to provide rice to the teachers and pay for some of their other expenses. (Source: “School Teacher Was Forced to Collect Money from Its Student,” Palaung Youth Network Group Newsletter, August 2003)


Students forced to donate money for school repair


In March, it was reported that students attending No.2 State High School in Ye Town, Mon State were forced to ‘donate’ 13,000 kyat (US$ 13) to school officials in order to repair and rebuild the school. Parents found it difficult to pay the 13,000 kyat, but some expressed fears that if they did not provide the money their children would be punished and would fail their classes. (Source: “The Government School Building with the Students’ Money,” The Mon Forum, HURFOM, 31 March 2003)


Rising school fees in Moulmein


In June, it was reported that school fees for students in Moulmein, Mon State had increased significantly since the previous year. One teacher reported that the reason for the increased fees was the government’s failure to provide funds to repair and rebuild school buildings. Parents were also forced to contribute funds towards a computer system. (Source: “High education tax during school opening days,” The Mon Forum, HURFOM, 30 June 2003)


9.3 Situation of Health


“When I worked in a Karen village, I also saw how people's health was inter-related to other issues. I saw the use of forced labour, forced porters. I saw these problems and came to realize we cannot solve them by continuing treating the villagers. We had to change the system.''


- Dr. Cynthia Maung, Founder of the Mae Tao Clinic for Burmese refugees and migrant workers (Source: “Step by Step to Solutions,” Bangkok Post, 10 November 2003)


In December 2002, Lt.General Khin Nyunt announced that "the health situation in Myanmar has improved dramatically in recent years," (source: New Light of Myanmar, 2002). Almost a year later the regime followed up with ‘evidence’ of this claim, citing the establishment of two new medical institutes, and the construction of 140 new hospitals since 1988 (source: “Myanmar Makes Achievements in Health Sector,” Xinhua, 25 November, 2003). Yet, this improvement has not been evident to the thousands within the country who continue to die annually from diseases that are preventable and treatable. As non-military expenditures such as health care continue to be a low priority in government spending, the health care system remains with insufficient facilities, too few health care workers, inadequate health education programs and lack of services in rural areas. Moreover, the health problems of many people in Burma are exacerbated by the ongoing armed conflict which disproportionately affects ethnic minorities in border states. People living in conflict areas are directly affected by landmines and military violence, while migration and forced relocations have caused malnutrition and other conditions that lead to the spread of disease.


According to the WHO World Health Report 2000, Burma is ranked 139th out of 191 countries in terms of the overall level of health of the population. Women can expect to live 7.1 years with a disability and men 7.4 years. Life expectancy for men is 54.6 years, for women 59.9 years. In the ASEAN region only Cambodia and Laos have lower life expectancies. Many of the countries ranked lower than Burma are suffering from the ravages of AIDS, a problem which has yet to come to a head in Burma. Lt. Gen Khin Nyunt condemned the findings of the WHO report saying, "The WHO report, based on false information from antigovernment sources aimed at tarnishing the image of the country is unjust and unacceptable…The ministry totally rejects the assessment." However it is difficult to see how the SPDC can effectively argue that public health is a national priority. According to WHO, in 2000 the SPDC spent only 4 ‘international dollars’ per year on health for each citizen. In comparison, neighboring Thailand spent 136 international dollars per person, and even developing countries like Bangladesh and India spent 17 and 13 dollars per person, respectively.


Women, children and ethnic minorities are disproportionately affected by the lack of health care. More than 92,500 of the 1.3 million children born each year in Burma will die before they reach their first birthday. Another 138,000 children will die before the age of 5. Many more children will suffer from acute respiratory infections, diarrhea related diseases, tuberculosis or malaria, which, along with measles, hepatitis B and AIDS are the leading causes of morbidity and mortality among children in Burma. More than one third of children under age 5 will become malnourished, most commonly when they are between 1 and 3 years old. UNICEF cites the cause of the vast majority of these deaths as a lack of medical attention and knowledge. (For more information on children’s health see chapter on children.) (Source: “Growing up under the Burmese dictatorship,” International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, August 2003)


A significant percentage of women continue to die in childbirth, especially those women who live in rural areas. Estimates vary from between 100-580 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. While more than half of these maternal deaths occur at home, over a third occur in government facilities, which lack the resources to provide adequate emergency obstetric care. According to figures from UN agencies, only 1 in 20 births in rural areas are attended by a doctor. Many other women die from unsafe abortions, which are illegal in Burma and must be obtained outside the public health system. (For more information on women’s health see chapter on women.) (Source: UNICEF & Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2003, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, U.S. Department of State)

Access to Health Care

In November 2003, the SPDC announced it had spent over US$ 70 million since 1988 to upgrade the healthcare system. The regime reported that there are currently 757 hospitals in the nation, an increase of 140 since 1988; with 52 hospitals, 82 dispensaries and 70 rural health centers currently operating in underserved border areas. (Source: “Myanmar Makes Achievements in Health Sector,” Xinhua, 25 November, 2003)


Despite the regime’s claims of improvement, the reality is that most illnesses and deaths in Burma continue to result from inappropriate or inadequate treatment and/or knowledge, which ultimately stem from a lack of resources. As with education, cost is the biggest obstacle preventing people in Burma from accessing needed health care.  In government hospitals, patients often have to pay a bribe to be seen by a doctor, get a bed, or to receive medicine. Families of patients must provide all essential drugs and supplies in public facilities, or else rely on unregulated private practices. To see a private doctor and receive medicine or an injection reportedly costs between 1,000-2,000 kyat. An operation in a private hospital is at least 150,000 kyat, and more for complicated procedures. Giving birth in a private hospital is approximately 80,000 kyat. However one family in Tenasserim Division reported having to pay 25,000 kyat to give birth in a government hospital. Only the very wealthy can afford to go to elite private clinics with high levels of care. (Source: “Growing up under the Burmese Dictatorship,” International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, August 2003)


While NGOs have made efforts to extend the public health care system, huge disparities in access to health services and information continue to exist. Burma’s health care system has been found to be more discriminatory than that of any other country in the ASEAN region in terms of responsiveness. People’s access to healthcare is directly correlated to their ethnic background, income level and whether they are civilians or military personnel. In 2000, the WHO ranked Myanmar 190 out of 191 countries in terms of the gap between potential health services and actual performance.


With medical infrastructure heavily concentrated in central urban areas, border areas have only one hospital for every 132,500 people and one rural health center for every 221,000 people (source: “Growing up under the Burmese Dictatorship,” International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, August 2003). Even within government hospitals patients routinely die from negligence and lack of treatment. One doctor reported that in hospitals health workers try to cut costs by reusing syringes (source: “Within Burma’s Outward Smiles, Winces of Pain,” Boston Globe, 16 March, 2003).


In 1999, WHO statistics showed that Burma had 29.7 physicians, 26.1 nurses, 22.1 midwives, and 2.1 dentists per 100,000 people. This rates Burma on the level with countries like Cambodia, which has 29.7 doctors per 100,000 but far below neighboring India, with 48 doctors per 100,000.


In addition, medicines in Burma are often expensive and difficult to obtain. The only high-quality drug manufacturer in Burma is the government-owned Myanmar Pharmaceutical Factory (MPF). As this company fails to produce the amount of medicine needed, approximately 95% of all medicine is smuggled in from India and Bangladesh and sold on the black market. A tablet of Paracetamol (an analgesic) sells for 25 kyat on the black market, while a day laborer is paid a maximum of 500 kyat a day (source: Narinjara, 2002). A growing problem is the use of unregulated imitations of popular drugs which may be passed off as the original product. In November, 16% of a random sample of drugs collected from pharmacies in Burma failed a WHO laboratory test for quality. Dr Thein Myint, a public health expert with the National Health and Education Committee (NHEC), a Burmese exile group based in Thailand, estimates that 60% of drugs used in Burma are produced by unregistered companies. Fake drugs are not only appearing in pharmacies but also in government hospitals. Among the most common fakes are antibiotics such as tetracycline, anti-malarial drugs, drugs used to treat TB, and anti-venom for snakebites. Medicines made with fake or substandard ingredients are often ineffective at treating illnesses, leading to a higher death rate. (Source: “WHO Steps Up Action Against Fake Medicines,” AP, 11 November 2003 & “Bad Medicine,” Irrawaddy, January-February 2003)


In May, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) released a statement demanding that the regime’s so-called Human Rights Committee take action in response to the SPDC’s role in denying citizens the right to food. AHRC stated: “Empirical evidence suggests that every day millions of people there [in Burma] go hungry, hundreds of thousands are seriously malnourished, and that some are indeed starving… Torture is used to obtain rice. Fear is instilled to deprive people of basic economic rights and retard their capacity to react.” (Source: “Hunger Still Rampant in Burma,” Asian Tribune, 9 May 2003)


An August report by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions illustrated that the average Burmese family does not earn enough money to adequately cover their living costs including food, housing, personal and household essentials and school fees for children. This correlates with UN statistics indicating that over a third of children under age 5 are malnourished.  (Source: “Growing Up Under The Burmese Dictatorship,” International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, August 2003)


In 2003, the situation in Arakan State was particularly bad. In July, government-granted private monopolies of the transport of essential goods within the state had led to a 30-120% increase in the costs of basic foodstuffs and fuel (source: “Monopoly on Transport Sends Essential Prices Up in Burma,” Narinjara, 21 July 2003). In September, Narinjara News reported that a famine in the western part of Arakan State had caused the price of rice to increase by a third and that rice had disappeared from the open market (source: “Why Is Dollar Increasingly Smuggled into Burma?” Narinjara, 5 September 2003).


Access to Clean Water and Sanitation


Throughout the developing world, lack of sanitation and access to clean water is a major concern. When adequate systems are not in place for the disposal of human waste, cholera and diarrhoeal diseases can rapidly spread, causing illnesses and deaths. A 2000 survey conducted by UNICEF estimated that in rural Burma only 57% of the population had access to improved sanitation, where in urban areas 84% of the population had access. A previous survey conducted in 1997 estimated that 34% of the population nationwide lacked access to safe drinking water (source: UNICEF). In July 2003, the SPDC announced that, largely through the efforts of International NGOs, an increasing number of villages in central Burma had obtained access to potable water (source: “Over 4,000 Villages in Myanmar Have Improved Water Supply,” Xinhua, 1 July 2003).




More people in Burma die of malaria than of any other disease, with an estimated 80% of the population living in malaria-prone areas. According to the WHO, in 2000 there were over 2.9 million malaria cases, leading to 5,000 deaths in areas throughout the country. UN statistics, which take into account the fact that many deaths from malaria go unrecorded, state that annual fatalities from malaria could be as high as 30,000. The greatest number of cases and highest mortality rates occur in the remote border areas. Malaria is also endemic in many of the country’s prisons. High fatality rates in these areas are the result of the lack of medication and treatment for the disease. (Sources: UNICEF; “Bad Medicine,” Irrawaddy, January-February 2003 & “More Malaria-Prone Areas Found in Myanmar,” Xinhua, 12 May 2003)




The SPDC has stated that tuberculosis is the second priority disease in the country’s national health program. In 2002, a WHO study reported that approximately 20,000 people die annually from tuberculosis, and about 85,000 people contract the disease each year. WHO has been working to set up "TB control centers" with the goal of establishing one in every township. The WHO has categorized Burma as one of 22 countries with a high rate of TB, however the organization has stated that the cost of treatment in Burma is low compared to other countries. WHO estimates that 4.5% of TB patients are infected with HIV, and 60 to 80% of AIDS cases suffer from TB.




A Study by Johns Hopkins University released in March 2003, described the HIV/AIDS situation in Burma as “a widespread generalized epidemic,” which has resulted in only “limited” national response. Estimates as to the number of people currently infected with the disease vary considerably. The SPDC Ministry of Health reports a figure of 180,000, UNAIDS estimates the number to be between 170,000 and 420,000, and researchers at Johns Hopkins state that using a “conservative approach” up to 832,100 people could be HIV positive (source: “AIDS in Burma,” Irrawaddy, 2 December 2003). The Johns Hopkins study puts the incidence rate of the disease at a minimum of 3.46%, giving Burma the highest infection rate in Asia after Cambodia (source: “Edging Towards Disaster,” Irrawaddy, 4 May 2003). UNAIDS has also reported that in some regions of Burma the infection rate could be as high as 13% (source: “Aids in Asia Moving at Double the Speed of Africa,” Times of India, 4 February 2003).


In 2002, the regime’s own data showed that 2% of military recruits were HIV positive, as well as 1.23% of blood donors and 2.13% of pregnant women (source: “The British Solution,” Irrawaddy, 4 May 2003). High-risk groups, such as sex workers, face a dramatically increased likelihood of contracting the disease. Reliable estimates put the infection rate among sex workers at 50-60% (source: “Edging Towards Disaster,” Irrawaddy, 4 May 2003). HIV infection rates among Burma’s intravenous drug users are among the highest in the world. The infection rate in this group is exacerbated by a shortage of syringes along with other medical supplies. Therefore, the spread of the disease is facilitated by widespread needle sharing.


Internal migration for the purpose of employment is also a cause of the spread of HIV. Hundreds of thousands of people work seasonally in the jade and ruby mines in Shan and Kachin States and it has been found that many young adults who are HIV positive in central Burma have worked in the mines, bringing HIV with them when they return home. The virus is also spreading in prisons where needles are often re-used several times, and in monasteries where young men shunned by their families move to die.


Burma’s already overburdened health system is ill equipped to deal with the medical needs of growing numbers of AIDS patients. People who are living with HIV/AIDS in Burma rarely have access to counseling or anti-HIV drugs. In addition, there is a countrywide shortage of antibiotics for TB, which kills most AIDS patients. It has been reported that once a patient is diagnosed with AIDS he or she usually dies within 3 months. One doctor in Sittwe, reported that that the government hospital in the city doesn’t have any wards for HIV/AIDS patients, despite the fact that there been a rise in people infected with the disease in Arakan State. (Source: “Nowhere to Go for HIV/AIDS Patients,” Narinjara, 9 June 2003)


In addition to a lack of government services, people with HIV/AIDS and their relatives are also forced to contend with social discrimination. Hospices reportedly sometimes refuse to treat AIDS patients, and some orphanages will not provide shelter to children whose parents have died of the disease.  (Source: “The British Solution,” Irrawaddy, 4 May 2003)


This misinformation and stigmatization has been fueled by the government’s failure to release accurate and timely information to the public about HIV/AIDS. While the SPDC first publicly acknowledged the presence of the disease in 1999, it is only in the last few years that the regime has begun taking more proactive measures to address the growing epidemic. Such measures include labeling HIV/AIDS ‘priority disease number three’ in the national health program, and cooperating with a number of International Non-Governmental Organizations (INGOs) and UN organizations to initiate programs for prevention and treatment. In February, it was reported that the junta had enacted a new law to centralize, regulate, and more closely screen blood donations, in order to reduce transmission of HIV and other diseases. (Source: “Blood Law to Save Lives, Says Doctor,” Myanmar Times, 3-9 February 2003)


The military government finally took a decisive step in recognizing the HIV/AIDS epidemic by cooperating in the implementation of the 2003-2004 UNAIDS joint program. This comprehensive strategy for addressing the HIV/AIDS crisis involves the junta, international aid groups, regime-affiliated aid groups, and the National League for Democracy. This program outlines five key areas that need to be addressed in order to halt the spread of the disease. These areas include: transmission among intravenous drug users, raising awareness among the general population; and providing treatment and support services for those already infected with the disease. Those running the program have stated that working with the NLD is an integral part of the strategy.


While the UNAIDS joint program is an important step, the regime continues to impose barriers that create difficulties in effectively reversing the spread of the disease. HIV/AIDS testing by western aid groups remains prohibited, as the SPDC still hopes to hide the true scale of the problem. Also, despite growing infection rates, the junta has not substantively increased funding to combat the disease, or to address health care needs in general. In April, the World Health Organization criticized the regime for its failure to institute AIDS prevention programs for sex workers and their clients, because government policy is that ‘men are faithful to their wives,’ (source: “Dictatorships and Disease,” New York Times, 17 April 2003). There have also been reports of rising arrests of women found in possession of condoms, who are then charged with prostitution. Most news about HIV/AIDS in Burma is still censored, and in August it was reported that the word “condom” had been used in the national press for the first time (source: “WHO Lauds Myanmar’s Progress in Promoting Condom Use,” AP, 21 August, 2003). Meanwhile, a public AIDS forum organized in November by the Association of Medical Doctors of Asia, was cancelled by the junta, and both the SPDC Prime Minister and Health Minister failed to attend a December ceremony in Rangoon to mark World AIDS Day (source: “AIDS in Burma,” Irrawaddy, 2 December 2003 & “SPDC Refuses to Discuss AIDS with Its People,” DVB, 3 Dec 2003). In light of this continuing lack of sufficient political will to combat HIV/AIDS, experts say that current efforts will only slow the growth pattern of the virus, but have little hope of reversing the trend (source: “Edging Towards Disaster,” Irrawaddy, 4 May 2003).


The SPDC’s refusal to acknowledge the facts of the situation affects not only Burmese citizens, but also neighboring countries. As drugs, migrant workers and sex workers leave the country, Burma has become an AIDS exporter. In neighboring China, India and Thailand, the provinces with the highest HIV rates are those that border Burma. A report released by Johns Hopkins School of Public Health has connected outbreaks of HIV and injection drug use with overland heroin trafficking routes originating in Laos and Burma and spreading throughout the region.


Mental Health


Mental health is an often overlooked aspect of health care in many societies and the situation is exacerbated in Burma by the lack of resources allocated to health care in general. Ongoing civil war and violence is accompanied by an increase in mental health disorders. Studies of refugees on the Thailand-Cambodia border found that 55% suffered from some form of depression and 15% from post-traumatic stress disorder. The literature on the subject indicates that because mental trauma is a concern for a sizeable portion of war-affected populations, it should be addressed as a major public health issue.


Support for People with Disabilities


In theory, Burma’s laws provide significant assistance to people with disabilities, including 2/3’s pay for up to a year after a temporary disability and a tax-free subsistence allowance for those with permanent disabilities. In reality however, assistance is severely limited. In addition, there are no laws requiring that buildings, transportation or government facilities be accessible to people with disabilities. A few small organizations, both domestic and international, provide limited support to those with disabilities but most people are forced to rely on their families. Military veterans are given priority for any available benefits. The numerous civilian victims of landmines living in conflict areas usually receive little if any assistance. (Source: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2003, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, U.S. Department of State, 25 February 2004)


International Humanitarian Aid


We recognize one of the limiting factors to making donor assistance in Burma effective is the embryonic nature of genuine domestic NGOs, as opposed to government-organized NGOs….For an effective national response to a problem like HIV, the government must also make life easy for concerned citizens who want to set up non-governmental organizations…That means liberalizing the existing laws on NGOs, which date back to the days of state socialism.


- Vicky Bowman, British Ambassador to Burma (Source: “The British Solution,” Irrawaddy, 4 May 2003)


International Non-Governmental Organizations began re-entering Burma in 1991, with the majority of them working in the health sector. This was a controversial move because many people felt that an INGO presence in Burma would provide legitimacy to the military regime. However, INGOs that decided to work in Burma argued that some issues, such as the spread of HIV, could not wait for a change in the political situation. From the start, the SPDC has shown a preference for working with intergovernmental organizations such as UNICEF, UNDP and WHO, which play a larger role in funding than INGOs. Many of these organizations have taken a lead in development, especially in the areas of management and assessment, and often they are the only buttresses against the collapse of government health and education programs.


INGOs have been more active in implementing development projects at the community level and have focused their efforts on training rather than providing hard resources or cash. In 1994, the SPDC decided to accept offers of assistance from international agencies and NGO’s in areas covered by the Border Areas Development Program "as long as they do not threaten national security and solidarity." As a result, some organizations have established their own programs and some have funded projects through local community groups, however they have not used a common structure, system or method.


In order to work in Burma, INGOs have to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) which outlines the conditions under which they are allowed to work. To be granted a MOU, INGOs first must approach the relevant ministry, such as the Ministry of Health and then have their case presented by a ministry representative to the Foreign Affairs Committee. After this, if all goes well, final permission to operate is granted by the Cabinet.


Problems faced by INGOs working in Burma include: lack of accurate information; lack of access to all parts of the country and an inability to address the underlying problems that affect health such as forced labor, forced relocations, and armed conflict. INGO’s are also hampered by a shortage of trained personnel in ethnic areas and political restrictions on whom they associate with. They are also frequently subject to arbitrary whims of local military commanders and SPDC officials regarding their status.


Throughout 2003 the debate on humanitarian aid in Burma continued. This debate is not over whether humanitarian aid should be provided, but rather about the manner in which aid should be dispersed. The NLD and most political opposition groups continue to argue that humanitarian aid cannot be divorced from a political context, as the problems such aid is addressing are at root political. In January 2002, a Strategic Coordinating Committee of the Burmese democracy and ethnic movements released a statement on humanitarian aid. The statement called for aid to be distributed only in consultation with the NLD and local community leaders; that aid be delivered directly to the recipients through credible INGOs without SPDC involvement; and that delivery of aid to border areas be monitored by an independent body. Burma activists have further urged that aid should contribute to the process of national reconciliation including political and economic reforms.


In a March 2003 report, the Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma (ALTSEAN) criticized the regime for using women as “bargaining chips” to garner increased aid. "An alarming development is how the SPDC is attempting to utilize the suffering of women to solicit international aid and partnerships without committing to concrete, sustainable and accountable actions of their own," the report stated. (Source: “Myanmar Using Women’s Suffering to Get Aid: Rights Network,” AFP, 9 March 2003)


The largest aid development in 2003 was the creation of a UNAIDS program to support the SPDC’s national plan for addressing the HIV/AIDS crisis. The program will involve UN agencies, government departments, NGOs and INGOs, with funding coming through a newly created joint funding mechanism, the Fund for HIV/AIDS in Myanmar. Various international donors, including Great Britain, Sweden, and Norway, have already committed US $21.3 million to the 3-year initiative. Donors made it clear that they intend the funds to be distributed in a transparent manner and that involvement and consultations with the NLD will be a key part of the strategy.  (Source: “Britain Gives US$15.7 Million to Fight AIDS in Myanmar,” AP, 28 April 2003 & “Britain Announces Aid Donation to Burma,” Irrawaddy, 28 April 2003)


Dr. Myat Htoo Razak, a Burmese doctor who specializes in HIV/AIDS policy and planning, expressed the following concerns about the UNAIDS joint program: “It is crucial that the Expanded Theme Group of the UN and "community advisory groups" make working together a priority when planning and implementing intervention programs. It is also essential that those groups include different segments of the community and should not exclude members of certain political or ethnic groups. Without active participation of such groups in the decision making process, the international assistance will benefit those who work with international agencies rather than the people of Burma. In addition, support for ethnic groups and people living in the border areas should be a high priority for donor agencies because of the serious impact of HIV/AIDS in some of these communities.” (Source: “Facing the Challenge,” Irrawaddy, 4 May 2003)


9.4 Personal Accounts


Personal Accounts Related to Heath


High cost of medical care in Mon State


Interview Date:             12 June 2003
Name:                          U Win Tei (not real name)
Ethnicity:                       Burman
Religion:                        Buddhist
Address:                       Mon State


My mother lives in XXXX village, XXXX Township, Mon State and she has seven children. There is a problem to live in our village. We have to pay tax 5 to 6 times a month to the military government. One pyi of rice cost 350 kyat to 500 kyat. The food and vegetables price is also high. If we are sick we can’t get enough medicine in the village hospital. We have to buy medicine from the shop and it’s very expansive. People usually die because the do not have money to buy medicine to take care themselves. It is 7 to 8 miles from the township hospital to our village. It is a very big problem for the poor people to go to the hospital and pay money to the hospital. The township hospital also doesn’t have enough medicine. That is very big problem for the poor people who go to the hospital. People who have enough money and people who work for the military can get care in a good place in the hospital. There isn’t equal treatment for poor people and rich people in the hospital. Poor people have a problem when they buy medicine because the hospital sells low quality medicine and a low price to them, the price is lower than outside the hospital.


Now my mother, Daw Su Mya Thin (not real name), who is 67 years old, was sick. We took her to get checked by the village doctor and it cost a lot of money, but she did not get better.


My brother, my sister, and I discussed taking her to the hospital funded by Japan in Yangon Division to get treatment for her. It cost over 1,000,000 kyat to get treatment there. The fee for the specialist doctor is 40,000 to 1,000,000 kyat. The fee for the doctor’s check is 10,000 to 50,000 kyat. There are also the fees for diagnosis, x-ray, cleaning, and patient transport that we must pay. We cannot buy the medicine for the treatment inside the hospital. We must go outside to a pharmacy to buy the medicine and then bring it back. We must also pay for the nurse who looks after our mother.


I saw many poor people in the hospital who came to get treatment. I really feel for them because they don’t have any money to pay. They have many different kinds of problems. Most of them earn about 500 to 1,000 kyat each day. If they have a child who is at least 12 years old, they must work to help the family make money. Some families don’t have a place to stay, so they have to seek asylum in a church or monastery outside of the town.


We cannot live in Burma because we had to see all of our property to pay for our mother’s treatment. So, we left Burma and came to Thailand to work and live. We don’t spend a lot of money here because we have to send money for our mother in the hospital. Our mother has had the treatment for almost one month. It already cost over 1,000,000 kyat.


(Source: HRDU, 2003)


Personal Accouts Related to Education


Excessive fees for primary education


Interview Date:             4 August, 2003

Name:                          Ko Htut (not real name)

Son:                             Maung Soe Aye Than (not real name)

Address:                       Zya Thirit Township, Mon State


I left Mae Sot and went back to Moulmein to take my children to school. On my way home at the Myawaddy gate on the Burma border, the border care group checked every one of the passengers. The border immigration took everything that people had like oil, ajinomoto (msg), clothing and dolls. They also took slippers for themselves. The border immigration led by General Kyi Win and That Zin used to check and forcibly confiscate things from passengers. They also confiscated food. Again at Moulmein gate, they asked the travelers: "where did you come from and where will you go?" And they also check the travelers ID card. They took our IDs to the Division Immigration office. We needed to go to the office to pay money and get our IDs back. They usually check people who came back from Mae Sot. If people don't have IDs to cross the border, they have to pay money to the Burmese Immigration authorities.


I took my children to school when I reached home in Moulmein. I had to pay a bribe or some kind of present for the teacher. I had to pay the school 500 to 1,000 kyat for other fees, but I didn't understand what kind of fees. The school collected money from the students 2 times a month. They had many reasons for collecting money from the students. The reasons were to buy computers, to raise money for a football match and many other things. Many students left school and came to Mae Sot to make money and help their parents. Many families had problems with their daily food. Usually girl students had to throw their shame away when they studied because their parents were mostly poor and could not buy supplies for them. Many students come to Mae Sot to make money to attend the 10th standard. Their lives are sometimes destroyed because some work leads to trouble. They had to pay at least 50,000 to 100,000 kyat for the standard class fee and school attendance fee. They also had to pay 400,000 to 500,000 kyat for tutor fee.


I left my child with his grandmother in Moulmein and came back to Mae Sot with my husband. We send money for our children to his grand mother to pay for his study fee and for his food. I had to leave my 7-year-old child and find work to make money for our life. When I left him, my son cried and said to me, "Don't leave me alone for along time. Come back to me immediately when my school closes." He bowed to us and said good bye with his face full of tears. He said, "I want to go and stay with Mum and Dad in Mae Sot, that's why I don't to stay in Burma. The food is not good and I don't like to live in Moulmein."


(Source: HRDU, 4 August 2003)


The miserable conditions of Mandalay university students


Interview Date:             15 September 2003

Name:                          Ma Win Win Aye (not real name)

Sex:                              Female

Ethnicity:                       Burmese

Religion:                       Buddhist

Address:                       Mandalay


According to Ma Win Win Aye, the students who are studying at Prime University located near Maha-myaing section in Mandalay have many troubles. The students have to attend the tutoring sessions for their subjects and have to rent apartments with their personal money. Some students cannot afford to enter university even though they received the highest scores on their high school exams. For the students who cannot afford to study at university, there is only one way for them to continue studying which is through the Distance Education Program. In addition, when they have free time they have to work as daily wage-workers in order to make money for their school fees.


The Mandalay Prime University is now located in Ahmapura town although recently it was moved from Mandalay town. The old building of the previous Prime University now appears to be completely damaged.


The students are having difficulties due to transportation and traveling costs because there is no dormitory or boarding house near the university. Everyday the students have to rent a taxi to go to the University. Mostly, each student has to spend at least 500 kyat for transportation fees for one day. In addition, they have to pay tuition fees of 10,000 – 20,000 kyat including stationary. 


Another difficulty, that students face, is that some are accused of being involved with revolutionaries. Those who are accused are taken out of school and detained. When the school is open and students are studying, it is guarded by soldiers, police, and intelligence officials. The students have to study under strict discipline. They are not allowed to go and come freely.


The teachers call meetings once a month at the school. In the meetings, the teachers discuss how the government develops the country, how it prioritizes the students, and tries to promote education. They also talk about how education is not the government's responsibility alone. The students and their parents must contribute. They discuss how they must take responsibility for their country to make change despite the fact that the international community has imposed sanctions.  Parents and students are required to assist in order to improve the national education level and the country's development. They indicate that this is our responsibility alone because foreign countries are prohibited in our country. We are responsible for our country and for rebuilding it. The teachers have to lead this discussion with the students as a follow up to the speech that Prime Minister Khin Nyunt gave to the teachers on the same topic.  


“For me, I totally understand about the students' lives and I feel with them as I always have to pay the attention to them. When I was staying in the student hostel, one student named Ma Moe Nyo, who lives in Kyauk-pa-dong Township, came to continue her third year studies in Mandalay University. Because her parents could not afford to support her after her second year, she stayed and worked as a receptionist at a department store owned by a Chinese national to support her third year of study. She worked hard and saved money as much as she could in order to support her Distance Education Program. But fate turned her life in a direction she never expected. During March 2003, the unidentified store-owner forced her to have the sex with him. She did not dare complain or even mention the incident to anyone until 20 August 2003. After that, she left her job with 200,000 kyat, which the violator gave her as compensation. She came back and stayed at the boarding house. She told me about everything that happened to her. She added that no one would pay attention to her if she reported the incident because the violator has connections with the government authorities.” Ma Win Win Aye added that there were also many other school-girls, particularly those who came from far away places to study in Mandalay University and suffered from the same problem as her.


(Source: HRDU, 2003)


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