Naga Activists Demand Government Support in Fighting Deadly Measles Outbreak

By Lawi Weng 16 August 2016

At a Rangoon press conference on Tuesday, right activists from the Naga Self-Administered Zone called on the Union government to put forward more support for the victims of a deadly measles outbreak in Lahe and Nanyun townships which has claimed 42 lives—including those of 29 children.

“We want the government to provide more humanitarian aid for the victims,” said Naw Aung Sann, the general secretary of the Council of Naga Affairs, adding that the authorities have a responsibility to build better roads to the area to facilitate the delivery of much-needed medical and food supplies. The 15 villages which have suffered the heaviest casualties from the outbreak are incredibly isolated—many are accessible only by motorbike, and can take up to a week to reach, due to a lack of transportation infrastructure.

“Our people have been suffering a lot,” he said, asking, “whose duty is it to help these victims?”

The illness first appeared in Lahe’s Thankholama village on June 6, and initially claimed the life of an elderly man. It did not alarm the community until a further five people succumbed to the then unknown disease by July 9.

Six activists spoke at the Rangoon press conference, placing blame with the regional government of Sagaing Division—in which the Naga Self-Administered Zone is located—for not providing enough assistance to community-based responders struggling to address the measles outbreak.

The activists said that representatives from Sagaing’s government had promised that they would provide a helicopter to deliver aid, but such action had not been taken, despite requests from the ethnic Naga community for more assistance.

“They said, ‘if you need a helicopter, we will provide you with one.’ But, in fact, they did not help us with this when we asked them,” said Naw Aung Sann, who explained that his aid team transported food by bus from Rangoon to Mandalay in the hope that the Sagaing government would then be able to fly it to the remote areas of the Naga region. They did not, instead limiting the donations to 27 kilograms placed on a public flight to Lahe town, 50 miles from the hardest-hit village of Thankholama. Without transportation for the aid, much of the donated food remains stuck in Mandalay, out of reach of the Naga community.

The Burma Army and the Sagaing regional government initially provided the areas affected by the outbreak with some sacks of rice, but Naw Aung Sann said that this has been insufficient in meeting the dietary needs of the sick. “The victims, especially those who are children, need nutrition, to help them recover,” he said.

Local activists now look back and say the measles outbreak could have been prevented by preemptive government action. Thankholama village, for example, has no clinic and no medics; children had not previously been provided the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine.

Naw Aung Sann described one family that had lost three of its members within one month, and another that lost two people.

“We all have duty to help [the victims],” said Cong Tsi Shee, an activist who spoke at the press conference. “Those children could become leaders of the country, but it is sad, because now they have died.”