World Bank Pledges $2B for Burma’s Health, Energy Sectors

By Kyaw Hsu Mon 27 January 2014

RANGOON — The World Bank has promised US$2 billion to Burma in loans, aid and investment it is hoped will improve the country’s ailing energy infrastructure and patchy health care provision.

The World Bank returned to Burma last year after not lending to the country for 26 years, and the Bank’s president, Jim Yong Kim, is currently on his first visit to Burma.

Jim Yong Kim on Sunday visited to the North Dagon Township Hospital in Rangoon, along with Burmese Health Minister Dr. Pe Thet Khin. During a press conference, Jim Yong Kim said the program will include projects should help poor people in Burma.

“Two of the major efforts will be energy and health,” he said.

A statement from the World Bank said the funding was a sign of recognition that Burma was reforming after decades of military dictatorship. The aid package, which includes soft loans, grants and investment, will involve various agencies in the World Bank Group—including the International Development Association (IDA) and the International Finance Cooperation.

Of the $2 billion, half will go to expanding electricity generation, transmission and distribution in Burma, where more than 70 percent of people do not have reliable electricity, according to the statement. The Bank will support the development of a National Electrification Plan, and promote reforms to make private sector participation sustainable, it said.

After Japan helped Burma to write off about its Gen Ne Win-era debt to the institution, the World bank in September announced its first financing to the country for decades—an interest free loan of $140 million to improve a power plant in Mon State.

Some $200 million of IDA funding will go toward making access to health care universal in Burma by 2030, said the World Bank president.

“As a medical doctor, I am so interested in this project,” Jim Yong Kim said.

About 75 percent of people in rural Burma lack access to health care, according to the World Bank.

Dr. Pe Thet Khin said universal health care coverage was a priority for the government, but said achieving this by 2030 would be a challenge.

“It’s takes a long time [to achieve universal health care coverage]. Even some European countries took more than 60 years to cover their whole nation. The shortest time was in Thailand and South Korea, they took only 40 years,” he said.

“For us [Burma], experts have drawn up a program for 20 years, but it might be too short and fast. But if we can learn from others’ mistakes, we can do it.”

He also encouraged international health organizations to work collaboratively with the government toward the goal of improving health care in Burma.

“To reach the target, there shouldn’t be overlap,” he said.

Dr. Pe Thet Khin said the government was already increasing its health budget, which despite recent increases remains one of the smallest in the world, relative to the size of the population.

A commission led by President Thein Sein has proposed that 3.38 percent of the national budget goes on health in the 2014-15 fiscal year, up from 3.15 percent this year.

“The health expenditure per person by the ministry is now gradually increasing. It will be $11 per person [this year], while people spend $14 of their own money [on health care]. In 2010, government provided only $2 per person. It’s increasing,” he said.

According to the health minister, in 2010-11, the health budget was just 74 billion kyats, about $74 million. In the current financial year, which runs until the end of March, spending on health is 499 billion kyats, rising to 650 billion kyats in 2014-15, he said.