Navigating Humanitarian Challenges: Aid Efforts in Myanmar Amidst Crisis - Doctors of the World

Navigating Humanitarian Challenges: Aid Efforts in Myanmar Amidst Crisis


Myanmar Context


Myanmar, one of the poorest countries in Southeast Asia, has been grappling with multifaceted humanitarian challenges, which have only exacerbated following the military coup on February 1, 2021. The resulting high inflation, economic instability, and resource scarcity have plunged the nation into deeper turmoil, leaving 18.6 million people in need of humanitarian aid. Persistent conflict, armed gangs and natural disasters throughout the country have led to millions fleeing the country and an additional 2.6 million people becoming internally displaced. 

Insecurity Insight, a nonprofit collecting data on international conflicts, has claimed that nearly 1,200 attacks have taken place on health-care workers and facilities in the 3 years since the coup. Due to the lack of security around healthcare settings, it is estimated that 70% of healthcare workers have left the country. The lack of healthcare support has allowed infectious diseases such as malaria, HIV, and tuberculosis to soar. People living with HIV are struggling to access the antiretroviral medication they need.

In 2023, Myanmar faced the devastating Cyclone Moka, adding to the already dire humanitarian situation. According to the World Bank, the estimated cost of direct damages caused by the cyclone was $2.24 billion, equivalent to 3.4% of Myanmar’s GDP in 2021. 

Another crucial factor has also greatly impacted the health and security of the populace of Myanmar, and that is the production of opium and methamphetamine. In 2023, Myanmar became the top opium producer in the world (508 metric tons in 2019 to 1080 metric tons in 2023), accompanied by an alarming increase in methamphetamine production in Shan state. With more people injecting drugs, the rate of HIV has also increased, with 11,000 new infections and over 280,000 already living with HIV. In a country with a heavily damaged healthcare system, the chance of receiving proper treatment greatly decreases. 


Doctors of the World: 30 years in Myanmar 



Doctors of the World (DotW) has a long history in Myanmar, having implemented harm reduction programs for intravenous drug users and sex workers nearly 30 years ago. Access to antiretroviral treatment (ART) for HIV has been a cornerstone of our efforts, saving countless lives and mitigating the spread of the virus.

In 2023, DotW’s efforts in Myanmar were evident across various regions. In Kachin, DotW trained and engaged 118 peer workers. Our organization was able to reach 10,070 people who inject drugs (PWID) and provide vital prevention and harm reduction services. 8685 patients received HIV testing and another 2517 were tested for hepatitis c. DotW also provided two types of treatment for HIV, with 2000 patients receiving ART and another 2500 patients being treated with MMT. Additionally, DotW responded to a staggering 97% of reported overdose cases in the region, achieving an impressive 99% survival rate.

In Yangon, DotW continued its lifesaving work, treating 740 patients with ART and providing essential harm reduction services to 650 sex workers. Through its Training and Coaching Unit, DotW conducted numerous workshops and training sessions, benefiting 350 community-based organization members and 73 partner staff. These efforts focused on enhancing harm reduction strategies, sexual and reproductive health (SRH), gender-based violence (GBV) prevention, and psychosocial support.


Doctors of the World: Future in Myanmar 


Looking ahead to its strategy for 2024-2026, DotW aims to reposition its role in Myanmar from direct implementation to providing technical assistance for harm reduction. This shift includes a focus on localization, capacity building of local partners, and the eventual transfer of treatment and care activities to the Ministry of Health by the end of 2026.

Furthermore, DotW plans to strengthen interventions and advocacy for sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), including safe abortion, GBV prevention, and cervical cancer awareness. By integrating SRHR services into existing projects and scaling up rights-based interventions, DotW seeks to empower communities and foster sustainable change.

Addressing emergency and humanitarian needs remains a priority for DotW, with plans to conduct exploratory missions in new geographical areas affected by armed conflicts and crises. By implementing targeted interventions and adapting to emerging situations, DotW aims to alleviate the suffering of those most in need and build resilience in communities facing adversity.

In conclusion, Myanmar’s humanitarian landscape remains complex and challenging, requiring sustained efforts and collaboration from all stakeholders.