BURMA
EMERGENCY MEDICAL RESPONSE

Global Refuge International held a constant presence in Burma from 2001-2013. Initially, GRI supported orphanages along the Thai/Burma border and then gradually transitioned to sending short term medical teams to the area to provide medical treatment. In 2008, GRI partnered with the NGO, Partners, to develop and launch a medic training program in the Karen state. With that program running, GRI launched a medic training program called The Burma Initiative: Medic Training Program in Shan State in 2010. This specific initiative aimed to provide medic trainings so that those trained could provide their people with quality medical care.

GRI recruited medical professionals such as nurses, nurse practitioners, physicians, physician assistants, dentists and paramedics to travel to GRI's training site in Burma to teach a portion of the GRI Medic Curriculum. GRI aimed to match each medical professional with his/her area of expertise in the curriculum in order to provide the highest level of education for the medics in training. Each medic professional was asked to commit two weeks to a month for the training and to lay aside personal preferences, habits and schedules in order to serve to the fullest in the area they were placed. GRI had overwhelming success finding quality medical professionals for the initial training in 2010, and all 2010 trainers committed to return for additional training in 2011.

On May 2, 2008, Burma experienced an event that would change the country forever.  Cyclone Nargis, blowing in from the Bay of Bengal, made landfall with a massive storm surge that drowned most of southern Burma.  Due to political and ethnic rifts between the locals and the Burmese government, the authorities chose not to make any of the local people aware of the oncoming storm, giving them no chance to prepare.  Estimates from different sources ranged from 138,000 to more than 350,000 people who lost their lives in the 48 hours after landfall.  Thousands more died in the following weeks due to complete negligence by the government and refusal to allow international aid agencies to reach the affected areas.  

Global Refuge, with a longstanding history in Burma, moved quickly to place international and local staff in Rangoon (the capital city) and to create an emergency health program for the affected.  Due to GRI connections throughout the country, work was able to start within hours in the middle of the most devastated areas.  GRI used two different approaches to meet the immediate needs: disease control and prevention, and provision of shelters from the elements.  Malaria, Dengue Fever and Cholera were the most immediate concerns, and GRI moved hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of supplies, medicines and water treatment equipment to southern Burma.  In addition, GRI supplied thousands of tents and bamboo structures to protect the displaced from the additional storms that followed.  

In 2013, after continued assessment of GRI’s ability to provide for the most desperate needs of the people, the decision was made to close down active programs in Thailand and Burma.  The political situation had changed in Burma, and despite the fact the fighting still continues on a small scale, the need for our work had declined greatly.  In keeping with our mission, to provide a lifeline, we felt that the people no longer needed the type of work our mission commands.