Cyclone Nargis


Between 2006 and 2011, the Human Rights Center worked with grassroots organizations in Burma and along its borders to assess and improve access to health care and provide basic human rights training. In May 2008, HRC staff members were in the region when Cyclone Nargis hit and provided reports to national news organizations, including National Public Radio’s All Things Considered and the San Francisco Chronicle. Also in spring 2008, HRC staff worked with students in the UC Berkeley Goldman School of Public Policy to examine the effectiveness of sanctions against Burma. Their report, Flying Blind: Investigating the Humanitarian and Human Rights Impacts of the U.S. Sanctions Regime on Burma, was published in May 2008.

Infectious Diseases and Human Rights in Burma

Researchers from the Human Rights Center and the Center for Public Health and Human Rights of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health released a report titled The Gathering Storm: Infectious Diseases and Human Rights in Burma in July 2007. The report documents how decades of repressive rule, civil war and poor governance in the Southeast Asian country have contributed to the spread of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis (TB), malaria and other infectious diseases there.

Burma has one of the highest TB rates, and is home to more than half of Asia’s malarial deaths. Those most vulnerable to epidemics are ethnic and religious minorities, displaced farmers, commercial sex workers, and intravenous drug users. These populations are especially prevalent along the border areas, where health care is almost completely unavailable.

Based on interviews with health professionals inside Burma and along the borders with China, Thailand, Bangladesh, and India, researchers found that the country’s inability to respond to infectious diseases is due to the polices and priorities adopted by a succession of military regimes that have been in power since the early 1960s. Such policies have included placing extreme travel restrictions on international humanitarian organizations, hindering their access to areas where infectious diseases are rampant and medical care is scarce. Researchers also found that the widespread distribution of counterfeit antimalarial drugs, coupled with the rise of drug-resistant malaria and tuberculosis, pose a major health threat to the Burmese people.

Findings form the report were highlighted in the Lancet’s world report section in August 2007.  See also the press release for the report from UC Berkeley News.