Burma (MNN) — Burma has been at war with itself since gaining independence from the British in 1948. The military government has had one goal on its mind: rid Burma of ethnic minorities, which comprise about 40% of the total population.
Decades of constant attacks on Burma’s ethnic people create a continual need for medical care. But that’s where problems arise, says Steve Gumaer of Partners Relief and Development.
“In the ethnic states, medical care is not something that the central government is interested in establishing,” he states, “because in those ethnic states, the government is either actively attacking the population…or slowly demoralizing and trying to separate the groups from one another.”
If officials stumble across a facility providing medical care for ethnic minorities, “they’ll just destroy the facility and steal the medicine for their own troops,” Gumaer explains.
“It’s a situation that in just this past month has gotten much worse.”
Since March 1, approximately 1 million Rohingya refugees have been without the medical care they so desperately need. The Burmese government forbade Doctors Without Borders (or Médecins Sans Frontières, referred to as MSF) from continuing its medical practice in Rakhine state at the end of February.
“The reason they were kicked out, according to the President’s office in Burma, is because they set up a newborn baby clinic for Rohingya mothers and newborns,” explains Gumaer. The officials also said MSF staff didn’t have complete visas.
“And then the third reason was because they [medically] treated Rohingya people.”
MSF treated over 20 Rohingya people who were shot during a February riot, which Gumaer says was “not just civil or ethnic strife, but regime police and military participated in the development of this riot.
“When Doctors Without Borders reported that they treated 22 people who were victims from that event, that was in direct contradiction with the President’s office, who said that event never even happened,” continues Gumaer.
“This is why they were really kicked out. The other issues are a silly premise.”
But just as Burma’s government keeps their activity “under the radar,” so does Partners. They’ve established eight permanent medical facilities in Karen state. Each clinic provides care for roughly 5,000 to 7,000 people each year, along with school health services, sanitation projects, and nutrition education.
“Our team trains community health workers, and at last count there [were approximately] 240,” says Gumaer.
As doctors rotate through the clinics Partners has established, they teach health workers how to treat the diseases and injuries they’ll see most often among refugee populations.
“The most common illnesses are respiratory: bronchial and things that lead to pneumonia. That and malaria, which is the #2 killer of people in Karen state, Burma Army being #1 killer,” Gumaer explains.
These community health workers go on to operate mobile medical clinics, which currently circulate in Karen state and Shan state. Teams have many opportunities to share the Gospel with patients as they meet critical needs. But it doesn’t stop there.
“Our work with the medics is, [in] itself, our way of helping these people see the light of Christ,” says Gumaer.
Buddhist and Muslim community health workers are attracted to Christ’s love as they see it demonstrated by Partners’ doctors and medical trainers. The Gospel-in-action has also drawn in Buddhist monks, Gumaer says.
“A number of them now have come to us and have wanted to explore what it means to have a relationship with Christ.”
To keep up with an ever-present demand, Gumaer says there’s a constant need for volunteer help. People with medical knowledge are always welcomed, especially specialists.
“Any doctors out there that want a big adventure with a little extra risk involved, and with a passion for people, I encourage you to contact us,” Gumaer states. Find the contact information you need on Partners’ profile page.
Financial support for this ministry is a big help, too.
“I invite people to join us, to walk in the footsteps of the Good Samaritan, who took his enemy and put him in a lodge, gave him the medicinal care that he needed and said, ‘Anything you need’ to the innkeeper, ‘I’ll pay it.'”