Date of Award

Spring 5-14-2018

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts (BA)


Environmental Studies


John van Buren

Second Advisor

Rene Desiderio


The nation of Myanmar (formerly Burma) has been undergoing violent ethnic cleansing for over 60 years. Members of minority ethnic groups such as the Karen, Chin, Mon, and Rohingya have been forced to flee their homelands. For many individuals in Myanmar, the primary form of healthcare is traditional medicine, in which plants and other natural resources are utilized for their medicinal compounds. The ability for plants to be used as medicine is one of the many ecosystem services of plants that has greatly benefitted humans. This paper examines the use of traditional medicine in Burmese refugees, as well as the ways in which natural remedies have advanced modern societies, both medically and economically. After reviewing the recent history of Myanmar, I analyze the changes that occur in healthcare as refugees move from their homes to refugee camps to the United States, noting the significant decrease in the use of traditional medicine over time. I discuss the role of the international humanitarian community in maintaining the health of refugee populations in refugee camps in both Bangladesh and Thailand, and the benefits that traditional medicine would bring to refugee health if traditional medicine were integrated into medical systems. With a focus on the positive values of plants for medicinal purposes, this paper advocates for a heightened availability of traditional medicines in modern societies. With the incorporation of plants into healthcare, refugees can more easily transition to societies with unfamiliar medical systems. This paper discusses the benefits of encouraging traditional medicine usage on a global scale, concluding that natural medicines can influence public health through urban ethnobotany and the scientific study of medicinal plant compounds.