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A deadly outbreak of measles in Burma’s northwestern Naga region has been contained and the death toll may be not as high as previously reported, according to the Department of Health.
Earlier reports indicated that at least 38 people – 25 in Lahe Township and 13 in Namyun, both in the Naga Self-Administrated Zone – were killed by an unidentified disease.
Then last week the government announced that it had identified the outbreak as measles, adding that it had dispatched health workers to provide vaccinations and other medical assistance to the affected areas.
Dr Soe Lwin Nyein, director-general of the Department of Health, now says the figure of 13 fatalities in Namyun was in fact the total number of deaths in that area over the past six months, and that he believed none of them were due to the measles virus.
He said, however, that he believed the reported death toll of 25 in Lahe Township to be accurate.
“The total death toll was 25 in Lahe’s Htanhkaw Larma village,” he said. “We [health team] also went to Namyun where 13 deaths were reported. However it turned out this was just a misunderstanding.”
He said the health department officials had set up a quarantine in Htanhkaw Larma and nearby villages, and had provided measles vaccinations to residents.
Dr Soe Lwin Nyein, who accompanied the team’s trip into the Naga region, said he believed the outbreak had been contained.
However, Naw Aung San, the general-secretary of the non-government organisation Naga National Affairs Council, contradicted the Health Department’s statement, claiming that so far 60 persons have died, and that the outbreak was still spreading.
“According to information provided to me from locals, more than 60 people have died since March, however it is very difficult for us to verify this,” he said, adding that 174 residents in the village of Shwelaw, Lahe Township, were seriously ill, with two in critical condition.
“We think the [government’s claim] that it has contained the outbreak is absolutely impossible,” he said. “We are dealing not only with an outbreak of measles, but diseases such as malaria, dysentery and a respiratory illness.”
The Naga National Affairs Council said the population in the Naga Self-Administrated Zone has also faced famine since March, leaving many people malnourished and unable to withstand diseases, which in turn has led to these outbreaks.