A MAM health worker (left) counsels a patient about TB medication in the Naga Self-Administered Zone, Myanmar. (MAM/CPI)

Tuberculosis (TB) remains a significant challenge to public health in Myanmar (Burma). On World TB Day, we talk to TB patients and health workers in remote communities of the Naga Self-Administered Zone to discover how USAID’s HIV/TB Agency, Information and Services Activity, led by Community Partners International, is helping to ensure access to testing and treatment.

Myanmar is one of 30 countries identified by the World Health Organization as having a high burden of TB and one of just ten also to face a high burden of HIV-associated TB and TB drug resistance. TB is a bacterial infection spread through inhaling tiny droplets from the coughs or sneezes of an infected person. It generally affects the lungs but can affect other parts of the body. It is a serious disease but is curable with proper treatment.​

Reaching remote and marginalized communities in Myanmar with TB services has always been challenging, but rising turmoil and conflict since the February 2021 coup have made this even more difficult. With support from Community Partners International (CPI) under the USAID’s Agency, Information, and Services (AIS) Activity, the organization Medical Action Myanmar (MAM) provides TB prevention and treatment services to about 120,000 people in 100 villages in the Naga Self-Administered Zone (SAZ).

MAM health workers negotiate treacherous trails to reach villages in the Naga Self-Administered Zone, Myanmar. (MAM/CPI)

Situated in the northern tip of Myanmar’s Sagaing Region, bordering the Indian State of Nagaland, this mountainous frontier tract is one of Myanmar’s most isolated areas. The majority of the population is ethnic Naga, a group of more than 40 tribes who inhabit India’s Nagaland State and northwestern Myanmar. Shan, Kachin, and Bamar ethnic populations also live in the Naga SAZ.

TB patient Ko Sai Lann (left) speaks with a MAM team member in the Naga Self-Administered Zone, Myanmar. (MAM/CPI)

“Now I can see a way to overcome this disease.”

Ko Sai Lann, 28, farms the hills around his village in Lahe Township in the Naga SAZ. “I suspected I had TB because I had been coughing and in pain for a long time,” he explains. “To reach the hospital, we have to go to India, which takes two days on foot, or to Lahe town, which takes three days on foot. But we have some MAM volunteers in our village, and I asked them for help.”

A MAM volunteer helped Ko Sai Lann get tested for TB at the township TB center, and he was diagnosed as positive. “I was sad and depressed, but the doctor encouraged me that I could be cured if I took medicine regularly. MAM supported me with a travel allowance to be examined and get treatment. They also provided me with a basket of nutritious food.”

“I’m thankful for their help as it’s tough to get treatment in this remote region,” Ko Sai Lann continues. “Before I was diagnosed, I suffered pain and felt very sick. But now I can see a way to overcome this disease.”

MAM field worker Kway (right) shares his experiences supporting TB services in the Naga Self-Administered Zone, Myanmar. (MAM/CPI)

Kway, 26, is a field worker for MAM’s TB project in Lahe Township. “My job is to help screen people for TB in remote communities,” he explains. “People here face many health care barriers, including transport and financial problems. MAM provides referral services and TB testing facilities at the township TB center.”

A MAM health worker (right) counsels villagers about TB in the Naga Self-Administered Zone, Myanmar. (MAM/CPI)

“I was depressed and cried from the pain.”