A new hope: from neglect of the health sector to aspirations for Universal Health Coverage in Myanmar

Health Policy Plan. 2019 Oct 1;34(Supplement_1):i38-i46. doi: 10.1093/heapol/czy110.


Myanmar's health sector has received low levels of public spending since 1975. Combined with the country's historic political and economic isolation, poor economic management and multiple internal armed conflicts, these limited resources have translated into low coverage of even the most basic services and into poor health outcomes with wide disparities. They have also resulted in out-of-pocket payments for health as a proportion of total health spending being among the highest in the world. The Government of Myanmar has now affirmed its commitment to moving toward Universal Health Coverage. This commitment is reflected in the National Health Plan 2017-2021. Drawing upon analysis of data from the Myanmar Poverty and Living Conditions Survey 2015 and using the country's revised methodology to estimate poverty, this paper explores some of the consequences of Myanmar's excessive reliance on out-of-pocket funding as the main source of health financing. Around 481 000 households in Myanmar experienced catastrophic health spending in 2015. Of this group, 185 000 households lived below the national poverty line. Households that experienced catastrophic health spending spent, on average, 54.7% of their total capacity to pay on health. Of all Myanmar households that went to a health facility in 2015, ∼28% took loans and ∼13% sold their assets to cover health spending. In that same year, ∼1.7 million people fell below the national poverty line due to health spending. The paper then discusses how ongoing reforms could help alleviate the financial hardship associated with care-seeking. With current political will to reform the health system, a conducive macro-economic environment, and the relatively limited vested interests, Myanmar has a window of opportunity to achieve significant progress towards UHC. Continued high-level political support and strong leadership will be needed to keep reforms on track.

Keywords: Myanmar; catastrophic health expenditure; equity; health financing; health reforms; impoverishing health expenditure.

MeSH terms

  • Catastrophic Illness / economics*
  • Financing, Personal / statistics & numerical data
  • Health Care Reform
  • Health Expenditures / statistics & numerical data*
  • Healthcare Financing*
  • Humans
  • Myanmar
  • Poverty / statistics & numerical data*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Universal Health Insurance / economics*