Myanmar has undergone political and economic reforms in the past decade that have helped create new opportunities for public and private investment in the health sector to improve services and move towards universal health coverage. But while progress has been made in some areas, the country still faces significant challenges. Progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals is constrained by conflict in border areas and health systems challenges such as health financing, human resources, health infrastructure, and weak health information systems. Communicable diseases also continue to be among leading causes of maternal and child mortality. According to the Human Capital Index 2018, a child born in Myanmar today could expect to be only about half as productive in adulthood as those who enjoyed complete education, full health, and a well-nourished childhood.

These challenges are exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic that threatens widespread disruptions to the provision of essential services such as facility-based deliveries, vaccinations and family planning services - jeopardizing the health of the most vulnerable populations: disadvantaged women, children and adolescents. Estimates show that large service disruptions in Myanmar have the potential to leave 669,200 children without oral antibiotics for pneumonia, 1,092,500 children without DPT vaccinations, 87,300 women without access to facility-based deliveries, and 1,692,600 fewer women receiving family planning services. As a result, both maternal and child mortality in Myanmar could increase by 22 percent over the next year, if left unchecked.

Strengthening primary health care systems to maintain services during the pandemic and leveraging private sector expertise for the delivery of quality services is priorities for Myanmar. In close collaboration with the government, the Global Financing Facility (GFF) is investing in effective strategies to help the country draw on the private sector to improve reproductive, maternal, neonatal and child health in an equitable way.

 “Strengthening partnerships with the private sector will help Myanmar deliver quality primary health services to the most vulnerable populations, which is especially crucial in the current COVID-19 pandemic”, said Sneha Kanneganti, Private Sector Lead at the GFF. “By tapping into the private sector’s expertise and resources, the government can take full advantage of technological innovations to improve the health and wellbeing of women, children and adolescents in the most fragile areas.”

Through a US$10 million grant that is tied to a larger, recently approved World Bank-financed project - the Myanmar Essential Health Services Access Project (EHSAP) - the GFF will help develop partnerships with private companies in the telecom industry to scale up innovations to reach women and children in remote or conflict affected areas, or those facing cultural, geographical and financial barriers. Capitalizing on the recent expansion of mobile coverage across the country and income groups, the support will help deploy innovative technologies in tele-outreach and tele-health through the World Bank project to expand access to quality services for pregnant women and children. The innovation component will be co-financed by IDA and the GFF Trust Fund, supported by contributions from the latter’s private sector donors MSD for Mothers* and Rockefeller Foundation.

“We need to ensure that we are responding to COVID-19 in a way that leverages the capacity of all stakeholders, including the private sector, to build strong, resilient and responsive health systems that are addressing the lived experience of all women through pregnancy and childbirth,” said Dr. Mary-Ann EtiebetLead and Executive Director of MSD for Mothers.

With COVID-19 highlighting the urgent need for resilient health systems, the GFF and World Bank are funding pandemic preparedness and response through health systems strengthening for the medium term. The GFF support will include the integration of technology innovations for building the capacity and performance of health workers in public facilities, as well as ethnic health providers that are key in delivering essential services in conflict-affected areas. The GFF is also providing technical assistance and financing for public-private dialogue and private sector health assessments to identify further opportunities for public-private partnerships.

The EHSAP represents additional financing from the World Bank to continue to support the Ministry of Health and Sports (MOHS) to increase access to quality essential health services, with a focus on maternal, newborn, and child health. It will focus on building primary healthcare infrastructure in some of the most socio-economically disadvantaged townships so that they are fully functional for essential service delivery and to scale up activities to strengthen the health system, including pandemic preparedness and response, which will support inclusion of health service delivery for all people in Myanmar. The GFF grant, will act as a catalyst, by focusing and increasing countries’ domestic resources and aligning them with IDA financing, external financing and private sector resources—helping support a comprehensive and integrated approach to health finance.

Myanmar joined the GFF in 2016, with the GFF partnership also supporting the MOHS with strategies and tools to strengthen its budget efficiency, help unlock additional resources for health, and increase budget execution.

* MSD for Mothers is an initiative of Merck & Co., Inc., Kenilworth, NJ, U.S.A.