Myanmar Sets Up New Unit to Manage COVID-19 Volunteers

By Zarni Mann 27 April 2020

MANDALAY—As the country struggles against COVID-19, the Myanmar government formed a new National Volunteer Steering Unit on Friday, chaired by State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, to systematically organize volunteers in the response to the pandemic.

“The unit will systematically organize volunteers who offer their labor, time, professional skills and advice for the COVID-19 response,” said President Office spokesperson U Zaw Htay.

In addition to the State Counsellor, the new unit is made up of the minister of social welfare, relief and resettlement, the head of the Union Minister office, regional and state chief ministers, the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Health and Sports, and the minister and director general of the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement.

Since Myanmar confirmed its first COVID-19 cases in March, volunteer groups across the country have helped local authorities and health workers to transport patients and prepare quarantine centers.

According to the President Office, the new unit will track the number of volunteers at quarantine centers across the country, monitor the needs of quarantine centers, prepare free health care and medical checkups for volunteers and arrange preventive equipment, food, drinks and transportation for volunteers.

The President Office said that the new unit will work with the Naypyidaw Council and state and regional governments to secure funding to support volunteers and can request funding from the government if needed.

Some existing volunteer groups at quarantine centers across the country said they welcome the National Volunteer Steering Unit’s mandate to help manage volunteers.

“Currently, in many places, quarantine centers have many needs and volunteers are also facing many difficulties, such as having poor access to protective equipment and places to rest,” said Ko Zay Yar Tun, founder of the Clean Yangon social volunteer group which provides logistical support to quarantine centers in Yangon. “With the formation of the new unit led by the government, the quarantine centers and volunteers will have systematic guidance. This will have a positive impact on emergency responses in the struggle of COVID-19.”

Some quarantine centers across the country have been criticized for poor management and for providing poor hygiene and food for quarantined people as well as medical staff and volunteers.

There are also complaints that volunteers at quarantine centers have no place to rest, while many of them face backlash from neighbors or have been evicted from their houses or dormitories by their landlords.

“The government’s plan is good for the volunteers who are working at the quarantine centers. However, the authorities of the unit may also need to monitor to ensure that the work is done properly. If not, opportunists will take over and all of the efforts will be in vain,” said Ko Aung Nay Myo, a member of the Save Monywa social volunteer group in Monywa, Sagaing Region, which is providing logistics support, food and water for local quarantine centers.

According to the Ministry of Health and Sports, there are now 7,020 quarantine centers across the country where 42,671 people are being quarantined, as of Sunday.

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