11. Contemporary medical pluralism in Burma

Monique Skidmore

Table of Contents

Overview of the healthcare system
Patterns of health seeking
Humanitarian and medical aid
Human rights abuses
Transnational and cross-border health care
Conclusion: human rights and the right to health


Every day in Central Burma, Burmese people engage with their pluralistic medical system. As with medical systems all over the world, in Central Burma, confusing, competing and contradictory logics govern the use of this medical system by Burmese people. Central Burma can be defined as the deltas and valleys of the Ayeyarwady River, where the population is divided between the large population centres of Yangon, Mandalay, Pathein and Mawlamyaing and the many villages that surround the river and its tributaries. The aim in this chapter is to present a cultural understanding of the ways in which Burma’s pluralistic medical system has been transformed through the past century or so. It examines the relationship between private and public healthcare systems and controversy about the use and provision of humanitarian and in-country aid, before examining transnational and cross-border forms of health provision accessed by Burmese people in their search for affordable and curative medicines. It seeks to make more complex analysis of the provision of health care by considering how users encounter and negotiate their way through the Burmese medical system. Finally, it considers some of the longer-term consequences that a lack of the right to health is bringing about in Burma.