In the Yangon YCDC municipal worker’s housing complex, Ma Tin Win, clutches her 3 year old son close to her chest. The toddler writhes uncomfortably, eyes glazed and mouth parted to breath. Her husband reaches over to feel the boy’s forehead, anguish on his face. A child with a fever and a runny nose might spell concern and inconvenience for any parent, but for Ma Tin Win and her husband Chit Hlang Oo, it is helplessness and terror. Four of their eight children have died, the most recent, a little girl, just three months ago. On the floor of their one room home, partitioned by hanging sheets, with walls painted a pale turquoise, the couple fidgets anxiously. They are hoping for a loan from a friend. Four dollars for a taxi to the hospital. Perhaps another five to see a doctor. An unknown cost for medicine, fees that total more than a monthly wage for the couple. They don’t know if their friend will come with the loan, and if she does, they don’t know how they’ll pay it back.
Among the victims of the 49 year military dictatorship which controlled Myanmar until 2011, are thousands of children. According to U.N. data, between 56,000 to 70,000 children under 5 die each year, about 1 in 15, and the majority of these deaths are caused by curable diseases. A systemic lack of infrastructure due to near total neglect of healthcare spending, education for parents, lack of sanitation systems, and rampant poverty and malnutrition, have left Myanmar’s smallest citizens extremely vulnerable to even the most common of childhood diseases.
They die from Malaria, Dengue, Diarrhea, and other ailments which can be cured if treated properly. In urban areas, like Yangon, the costs of transportation or taking time off work are frequently prohibitive for the parents of sick children, let alone the costs of medicine. As the country struggles toward democratic reforms, and experiences rapid transitions in legislation and infrastructure, there is now hope that much needed reforms will bring more safety to Myanmar’s children, but there is much work to be done.