Until the 1980s and 1990s, few people in rural areas had the benefit of modern medicine. To correct this deficiency, the country's health services were reorganized by sending more doctors to rural areas and increasing the number of rural health centers. Doctors in private practice were inducted for two years of national service. The progress of the health services in the 1980s is reflected in the reduction of the physician/population ratio from 1 per 15,560 in 1960 to 1 per 3,578 by 1986. To staff the new hospitals and dispensaries, medical schools have been expanded, nurse and midwife training courses increased, an institute of paramedical science was established, and a new college of dentistry opened. As of 1999, there were an estimated0.3 physicians and 0.6 hospital beds per 1,000 people. A team of nutritionists conducts research on the nation's diet and disseminates its findings and recommendations through the press, radio, and demonstrations in offices and factories. One result of these efforts has been that the average height and weight of Myanmar's populace have increased.
Smallpox and plague have been virtually eliminated as health hazards and programs are under way to eradicate malaria and tuberculosis. However, gastrointestinal diseases such as typhoid, dysentery, and cholera remain prevalent. One of the problems yet to be overcome is the lack of potable water for residents; in 2000, 68% of the population had access to safe drinking water and 46% had adequate sanitation. Another serious health problem is drug addiction, exacerbated by the easy availability and low cost of opium. Under a drug abuse control program financed by the United States and the UN, a new 300-bed hospital for addicts opened in 1982 at Thayetmyo, along the Irrawaddy in central Myanmar; smaller facilities have been established in about two dozen other towns.
The infant mortality rate dropped from 129.9 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1960 to about 89 in 2000, while average life expectancy rose to 51 years. Between 1990 and 1995, 60% of the population had access to health services. During 1987–1990 immunization was estimated to have saved 60,000 young children and averted 2.4 incidences of vaccine-preventable diseases. Between 1990–1994, the immunization rates for children under one were as follows: tuberculosis, 83%; diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus, 77%; and polio, 77%. The level of measles immunization rose by more than 50% between 1988 and 1994. By 1999, 83% of children were immunized for DPT and 85% for measles.
The total fertility rate decreased from 5.1 in 1990 to 3 in 2000. The maternal mortality rate was 230 per 100,000 live births in 1998. As of 1999, 29% of children under the age of five were malnourished.
There were 1,093 new cases of AIDS in 1996; that year, international health organizations estimated the number of Myanma infected in the north alone to be 350,000–400,000. HIV prevalence as of 1999 was 1.99 per 100 adults.