Parliament Criticized on H1N1 Vote

By Moe Myint 3 August 2017

YANGON – With the recent outbreak of H1N1 influenza claiming more victims by the day, lawmakers in the National League for Democracy (NLD)-dominated Lower House have been criticized for voting down a proposal on Wednesday to raise awareness of the disease.

Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) Lower House MP U Thein Tun submitted the proposal on July 28 urging the government to boost awareness of H1N1—known as swine flu—across the country in order to reduce infection rates and deaths.

Many legislators welcomed the suggestion on the day, however when the Lower House resumed its regular session on Wednesday, the proposal was rejected in a secret vote.

Twelve parliamentarians debated the proposal—seven supported the awareness campaign, three questioned the plan, and two insisted the vote be on record. Out of a total of 392 votes in Parliament, 146 MPs voted in support and 231 against the proposal, while four abstained, and 11 MPs did not join the ballot.

The outcome did not sit well with netizens and observers, who, along with much of the public, are concerned with the death toll–standing at 13—and the number of confirmed infections rising to 99 out of 284 suspected cases in Myanmar, according to health ministry figures on Thursday.

Some political watchers criticized the NLD majority, saying it consistently opposed proposals from opponent parties, regardless of the value of individual proposals. Ko Min Thway Thit, member of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU), was “really disappointed” with the decision.

“Their [NLD MPs] conduct was absolutely wrong,” he said. “It should not have gone that way.”

Since the virus began spreading, activist Ko Min Thway Thit has joined others in several townships in Yangon in donating medical face masks and distributing leaflets advising people on combating the flu.

He told The Irrawaddy their movement does not represent any particular organization and accepts the help of volunteers, adding that a government-run awareness campaign would be more effective than a grassroots effort like that of his team.

“They [NLD] should think separately about the issues of national interest and political interest,” he said.

Political analyst U Yan Myo Thein told The Irrawaddy the government must accelerate countrywide initiatives in order to combat H1N1. As publically elected lawmakers, he said, MPs should have voted in favor to show they prioritize public interest.

The analyst concluded that NLD MPs rejected the proposal of the USDP lawmaker because the health ministry affirmed it could handle the outbreak. Lawmakers must monitor the actions of government, whether it deems those actions efficient or not, he added.

“MPs should encourage the Union Parliament to lessen the worrying of the people,” said U Yan Myo Thein.

The health ministry has distributed 400,000 leaflets and 50,000 posters on the disease, held more than 1,400 awareness events and collaborated with civil society organizations across the country, according to its statement on Thursday.

The statement added that a laboratory in Japan has recognized the strain as seasonal influenza A (H1N1)pdm 09 and that it could be cured by antiviral tablets.

The health ministry has encouraged people to wear masks and wash their hands frequently, cover mouths when coughing and sneezing, and avoid crowded places.  H1N1 flu symptoms are the same as seasonal flu, including cough, fever, sore throat, stuffy or runny nose, body ache, headache, chills and fatigue.