Burma Humanitarian Mission

Backpack Healthworker Teams

BHM supplied medic teams serve villagers and Internally Displaced People in rural Burma with medical care.


Despite the election of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy to hold the majority of seats in Burma’s parliament, the Burma army continued its unrestrained assault on Burma’s ethnic minorities - the Kachin, Shan, Pa’laung, Mon and Karen peoples.  In northern Burma, the Burma army attacks almost daily in its efforts to seize key land for development.  For instance, in March 2016, soldiers shot and killed Hpawmai Naw, a 30-year-old from Wamu village.  Unprovoked attacked continued all year long.  On December 24th, Burma army artillery injured four young girls in Namhpalun village.  Rape continued without restriction.  These incidents are a few of the hundreds of similar, daily assaults throughout the year that inflicts suffering on Burma’s ethnic minorities – compelling thousands to seek sanctuaries in Internally Displaced Person (IDP) camps, crowded refugee camps or overwhelm nearby villages. 

Isolated, without government health care support, the ethnic minorities in Burma endured illnesses and diseases that are accentuated by malnutrition. In 2002, public health researchers from the UCLA, UC Berkeley and Johns Hopkins University surveyed eastern Burma’s conflict zones where the Karen, Karenni and Mon people resided. The results were stark – with mortality rates abhorrently worse than Burma as a whole, neighboring Thailand and world standards.

  • The Infant Mortality Rate was 135 deaths per 1,000 births (US rate = 5.8/1,000)
  • The Maternal Mortality Rate was 7.2 deaths per 1,000 births (US rate = 0.6/1,000)


Since 1999, Burma Humanitarian Mission has partnered with the Backpack Health Worker Teams (BPHWT) to recruit, train and outfit teams of backpack medics and health workers.  Ethnic minorities from the Karen, Kachin, Shan, Pa’laung, Mon, Chin, Rohingya communities comprise BPHWT – in all leadership and field team roles. The backpack teams operate in their respective communities.  The typical team consists of:

  • Five medics (2-3 senior medics paired with 2-3 junior medics)
  • Five Village Health Volunteers (VHV)
  • 5-10 Traditional Birth Assistants (TBA)

While the medics travel to 9 to 12 villages each month, the VHV and TBA remain in their homes.  The backpack teams are outfitted with an array of basic medicine:  Penicillin, Amoxicillin, various anti-malarial treatments (quinine, artesunate, etc) – more than 55,000 doses of medicine for the year.  The teams also rely upon more than 3,000 individual medical supply items, such as bandages, gauges, syringes, stethoscopes and thermometers. 

To read our full 2016 Annual Medic Report, please click here.


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