Myanmar Medics Volunteer to Combat COVID-19 Menace

By San Yamin Aung 26 March 2020

YANGON — Shortly after one of the country’s first COVID-19 cases was reported in a small hill town in remote Chin State, five young doctors volunteered to go to an understaffed and ill-equipped hospital to fight the coronavirus.

Tedim General Hospital is where the 36-year-old patient who came back from the United States and tested positive is being quarantined. It has only two doctors, very few nurses and insufficient protective equipment.

So far Myanmar has reported three cases while the virus has infected more than 470,000 people and killed more than 21,300 across the globe.

Dr. Khin Khin Gyi, a director of the Department of Public Health at the health ministry, said the ministry asked for doctors to volunteer to control a possible spread of the virus in Chin State.

Five volunteer doctors arrive at the Tedim General Hospital on March 25. / Facebook

Dr. Nung Mun Thawn, Dr. Lalram Zau-a, Dr. Bawi M. Lian, Dr. Wit Yee Win and Dr. Kaung Myat Oo traveled to Tedim on Wednesday with medical equipment.

“As a health worker, we just go where we need to be,” Dr. Bawi M. Lian, an ethnic Chin doctor, told The Irrawaddy on his way to Tedim Township’s Keptel village where the patient visited before he was admitted to hospital. The village is now under lockdown.

He said all government employees were working to control the virus and other doctors were willing to go to the frontlines.

“This will be a long fight,” he answered when asked about what challenges he expected to face from the coronavirus.

We need to send our human resources where they are needed, instead of concentrating on one place. And everyone needs to be ready to support in the long term.”

Dr. Zaw Myint Naing, the superintendent at Tedim’s hospital, posted on Facebook that the patient was stable.

“We still need more volunteer doctors, nurses and lab technicians,” he wrote, while expressing gratitude to the five volunteer doctors.

The medical group working at border control checkpoint / Facebook

Hundreds of medical staff and volunteers are also taking risks and working in Yangon and at the Myawaddy border.

In Yangon, there are two confirmed cases and most of the suspected cases are being quarantined in the city. And thousands of migrant workers are coming back to Myanmar after factory closures across Thailand.

Trainees from Yangon and Karen State’s Hpa-an nurses training schools and university students from Hpa-an are working on the border to check the health of the thousands of migrant workers who have headed home overland from Thailand. Volunteers are stressing the importance of home quarantine when they return home in a bid to contain the coronavirus.

Karen State’s social affairs minister Saw Bo Bo said 140 volunteer doctors, nurses and students from Yangon, Hpa-an and Naypyitaw were checking migrant workers’ temperature at the border checkpoint, taking personal information and detailing their health awareness.

“They are doing a good job,” the minister said, adding that the volunteers were essential in allowing the returnees to enter the country.

Dr. Win Zaw, general secretary of the Myanmar Medical Association (MMA), said the limited health infrastructure, insufficient masks and other protective equipment are the major challenges for health care workers who at the most at risk of contracting the virus.

Volunteers from nursing training schools record the personal information of the returning migrant workers at the border control checkpoint. / Aung Thiha / The Irrawaddy

“I wish them to be well-equipped. And only then can they effectively and confidently continue the fight,” he said, calling for equipment donations for hospitals.

The MMA has been calling for volunteer medics and non-medical volunteers.

Dr. Win Zaw said 1,078 medics and 11,557 other volunteers signed up with the association in less than two weeks.

Freelance photojournalist Ko Kaung Htet, who was a doctor, said he volunteered to help.

He said Myanmar faced greater challenges than other countries because of limited health care infrastructure and the problem of returning migrant workers.

Ko Kaung Htet helped conduct public awareness campaigns in 10 Yangon townships on Thursday. He said many people would be unable to follow the health ministry guidelines, such as avoiding crowded places, if they were to make a living.

Dr. Win Zaw said his association was working closely with the health ministry and the volunteers were ready to support anywhere required.

“We all must collaborate to fight the virus as our country did during previous crises. And that will be the main strength for all of us.”

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