Donor countries, including the United States, have supported organizations that provide essential humanitarian services to people along Burma’s borders. Border areas have long been neglected by medical and development programs run by the Burmese government, and this international assistance has helped countless people access medical care and food. Funds to organizations along Burma’s borders include efforts to supply community health workers that provide care to people in Burma with no other access to medical services – people who face ongoing threats of malaria and malnutrition.
Some political reforms have increased opportunities for international donors to directly fund civil society groups within Burma. Some donors have shifted their priorities, favoring internal beneficiaries to those groups that work on Burma’s borders. Emerging civil society groups in Burma rely on international aid and can make great improvements in the country with this assistance, but donors should not favor them at the expense of groups working in Burma’s border regions.
Humanitarian needs are acute along the Thai/Burma border, for example, where approximately 150,000 people seek medical care each year at the Mae Tao Clinic, run by Dr. Cynthia Maung. The clinic serves refugees and migrant workers in Thailand as well as people who cross the Burmese border specifically to receive medical assistance. The clinic has long stood as a necessary source of care for people with no other place to turn, but now the shift in donor focus to Burma’s interior has left Mae Tao Clinic in urgent need of funds and supplies. Mae Tao Clinic issued an urgent plea for assistance this week, stating that it will soon end its provision of dry food rations to approximately 3000 children if it does not receive additional resources.
The international community must continue supporting organizations and initiatives that provide necessary care to people along Burma’s borders. They should heed Aung San Suu Kyi’s call during her recent Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, during which she warned donors against “compassion fatigue” and insisted that donors continue to provide necessary assistance to Burmese refugees in need of care. The reforms within Burma should not be a pretext for international groups to turn away from the growing humanitarian needs of people along its borders.
Mae Tao Clinic is requesting donations, which can be made through its website.