Insufficient Aid to Naga Region Contributes to More Measles Casualties

By Nyein Nyein 24 August 2016

The death toll from a measles epidemic has risen to 68 in Burma’s remote Naga Self-Administered Zone, according to a regional lawmaker and other relief workers providing support to the affected areas.

An emergency response team dispatched to the area says the situation is particularly critical in Kesan Salin and Kesan Karlan villages in the Dong Hee sub-township of Nanyun Township.

The spread of the outbreak has been linked to the poor transportation infrastructure in the mountainous region in Burma’s far north; with many areas only accessible by motorbike, the overland delivery of necessary medical aid and vaccinations has been difficult.

Sing Maung, the Sagaing Division parliamentarian representing Nanyun Constituency No.1, told The Irrawaddy that out of the 68 confirmed deaths, around 40 have been children under 10 years old, many of whom have been in his constituency.

“There are no medical doctors who have arrived yet to these areas,” he said, pointing out that he had been told that regional healthcare providers would be sent. After visiting multiple communities stricken with measles, he said that at least four villages urgently need physicians on standby to better control the disease and provide support and guidance regarding its prevention.

In early August, after the measles outbreak had been ongoing for two months and claimed 38 lives, the crisis received national attention from the public and the media; at the time, the illness had not yet been identified. The National Health Laboratory, under the department of Medical Services within the Ministry of Health and Sport, later confirmed the disease as measles in the Naga region’s Lahe Township, where the illness first appeared. The lab, however, did not provide the same confirmation in Nanyun Township, where children afflicted with the illness also coughed blood and suffered from severe congestion.

Local government has been criticized by local activists for a slow and inefficient response to the epidemic.

“Twenty-four more people, the majority of them children, died in those villages in Nanyun township within a week’s time,” said Shu Maung, the secretary of the Council of Naga Affairs, which led the emergency response team to the area.

“They need the immediate support of medicines as well as preventative measures to fight against the disease,” he said. His group led a press briefing in Rangoon on August 16 and urged the government to take action.

The community-based emergency response team also has been sending medical supplies to the affected areas, but it took at least eight days to reach the remote villages, Shu Maung explained.

Following the criticism of the government’s response—particularly regarding the failure to facilitate the use of a helicopter to deliver aid more efficiently—the Sagaing regional government’s social welfare minister Dr. Zaw Win traveled to some affected villages in the Naga region to provide food and medical support earlier this week.