The Republic of the Union of Myanmar is the largest mainland country in Southeast Asia, with 14 states and regions, and over 59.13 million people living in rural (70%) and urban (30%) settings. Myanmar has a diverse population owing to the five border countries: China, Laos, Thailand, Bangladesh and India.
In 2012, following an initial diplomatic visit by then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the US and Myanmar established diplomatic ties. In parallel to the government-to-government interactions, researchers and academics from the US began to develop relationships with researchers, academia and civil society in Myanmar. In early 2012, a group of faculty from the Johns Hopkins University visited Myanmar followed by a contingent from the Myanmar Ministry of Health visiting Johns Hopkins to develop collaborations and ties between health sciences and public health researchers and policy makers. This laid the groundwork for the current collaboration.
National Mental Health Data
The World Health Organization (WHO) 2014 Mental Health Atlas Country Profile reported the disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) related to mental health was 2,762/100,000. The standardized age per 100,000 for suicide was found to be 13.1 years. In a separate WHO report, neuropsychiatric conditions account for approximately 2,000 years of healthy life lost due to disability (YLD), and approximately 100 years of life lost due to premature mortality (YLL). Suicide, homicide and conflict amount to almost 1,000 (YLL).
Current Mental Health Services
The professional mental health workforce in Myanmar is limited. As of 2014, in the entire country there were approximately 120 psychiatrists (2 per 1,000,000), 156 psychiatric nurses (2.6 per 1,000,000), 3 clinical psychologists (5 per 100,000,000), 5 psychiatric social workers (8 per 100,000,000), 2 occupational therapists (3 per 100,000,000) and zero specialists for psychosocial rehabilitation.
A 2015 Psychiatric News article reported on major efforts in Myanmar to expand mental health resources, and integrate them into primary care settings. It was noted at the time that approximately 2 percent of Myanmar’s national budget, or $14 per person, was directed towards national health services.
To improve access to care and the health status of the population, Myanmar’s Ministry of Health and Sports drafted the Myanmar National Health Plan (2017-2021). The primary focus of this initiative is to address public spending on health to expand service affordability, availability and readiness, and lead to visible improvements in health and health services. As the primary funding source for care of severe mental health disorders, the government has included mental health in the non-communicable disease planning.