Myanmar & COVID-19

Western Myanmar’s Remote Naga Area Braces for COVID-19

By Lei Lei 3 April 2020

YANGON—Local residents in Leshi Township in the Naga Self-Administered Zone have expressed concerns about a possible COVID-19 outbreak as the township has a serious shortage of health care workers and five residents are already being monitored for coronavirus infection.

U Kyaw Htay, a Lower House lawmaker for Leshi, told The Irrawaddy that there is only one doctor for the two public hospitals in the township.

Apart from those two hospitals, the township has only 27 healthcare centers, all understaffed, across its 72 villages. In rural areas of Myanmar like Leshi, health care centers are usually run by health care assistants and midwives.

“The Ministry [of Health and Sports] said that they don’t have enough fresh graduates to assign any here for the time being, but that they do have plans to fill the vacant positions,” said U Kyaw Htay.

Leshi borders both India and Sagaing Region’s Hkamti and Homalin townships. The Naga township has a population of over 10,000 people. As the township is located in a remote area and is not easily accessible from other parts of the country, Leshi residents usually cross into India for education and health care services.

“The five people under investigation have returned from their studies in India. Three others returned from Singapore and have now completed home quarantine. We have concerns because there are people being monitored [for the coronavirus] but we don’t have enough health care assistants. Local residents here also don’t live a healthy lifestyle, so we have some reasonable cause for concerns,” U Kyaw Htay told The Irrawaddy.

Township authorities have set up five checkpoints at crossings along the Indian border, where they will screen returnees for fevers and note down their addresses to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The government has provided 40 sets of personal protective equipment and two ventilators for the township but they still need health care workers, according to Dr. Nay Aung Soe, the township’s only doctor, at Leshi Township Hospital.

“I am worried not only about imported cases but also about local transmissions. As there have been local transmissions, I am concerned that local residents who return from those places might be infected,” he said.

Dr. Thet Zin Aung, a doctor at the public hospital in the Naga township of Lahe, says his hospital is also in need of surgical masks and chlorine to use for disinfection.

Two people in Lahe who returned from India are now being monitored for COVID-19, according to the township administrator, U Myo Nyi Nyi.

Lahe has four wards and a population of over 50,000 people but also has only two hospitals.

The Naga Self-Administered Zone, populated mostly by the Naga ethnic group, is considered one of the poorest and most underdeveloped areas in Myanmar.

Home to some 130,000 people, the zone is made up of the three townships—Lahe, Leshi and Namyun—and five sub-townships—Donhee, Htanparkway, Mobaingluk, Pansaung and Sonemara.

“The virus is still not a threat in Naga region. But we have formed committees in Leshi, Lahe and Namyun as a preventive measure,” said U K Sai, chairman of the Naga leading body, which administers the Naga zone. “We will work together with the township health department to educate the public about the coronavirus.”

In 2016, a measles outbreak killed more than 80 people across the Naga Self-Administered Zone. The area also has the highest prevalence of malaria and tuberculosis in Myanmar.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.

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