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As editor in chief of one of the few remaining independent media organizations, we collect, check and spread the news about Burma. Through various credible contacts inside the military-ruled country, I receive heartbreaking messages about Covid-19 every day, which I think the international community ought to react to as an immediate urgency. One might ask why so alarming as every country around the world is facing the Covid-19 pandemic, but the case in Burma is different.
News of the deaths of close family, of best friends, of relatives, is no longer considered news at all. Loved ones failing in their desperate attempts to find oxygen, similarly, is no longer news. Families spending household savings to purchase faulty concentrators or overpriced and ineffective medicines; no longer news. The hundreds of deceased being cremated daily, the dark smoke of death lingering over Yangon both day and night; not news. The virus has spread across all layers of Burma’s society, indiscriminate and ruthless. Even the last of the frontline medical workers, not yet persecuted by the junta, are falling prey to Covid-19.
Since February’s coup, state hospitals will not admit a patient without “status” or a “connection” to the military nexus: even officers and their families have been denied treatment on arrival. Out of lack of resources or fear of reprisals, private hospitals have chosen to ignore the majority of patients, those lucky enough to find a bed have only been admitted under the proviso they bring their own supply of oxygen. As a result, people of all degrees of wealth, rank, and status have resorted to treating loved ones at home, with whatever medicine and equipment they can obtain, out of pure necessity.
Desperate for a cure, the Burmese people turned to Facebook for ‘magic solutions’. Social media is ablaze with all kinds of witchcraft and quackery, with endless posts containing well-repeated hearsay on topics ranging from techniques to save a life, to methods of increasing bodily oxygen levels, or potions that, once ingested, will certainly, remove the coronavirus. It is in no way strange to read such advice as inhaling the fumes of a hair-dryer to boost oxygen levels or to chew raw onion (three times a day) whilst absorbing the virus nullifying heat into one’s lungs.
We have tried hard to dispel these myths through our work, releasing broadcasts countering popular misconceptions and interviewing medical professionals to improve access to useful and correct knowledge. The examples above may sound preposterous to outsiders, but millions of Burmese, out of hope and desperate, have found refuge in such information.
Importantly, Burma has reached a point of total nihilism with regard to coronavirus facts and figures. The junta lacks the bandwidth, and certainly the motive, to promote data that in any way resembles realities on the ground. We receive anecdotal data from burial grounds, funeral services, and organizations thanklessly working to contain the outbreak. But, similarly, all this provides is rumour and numbers. The hard fact is that every single day, the news of many more dead and infected reaches us through the experiences of our households, our relatives, and our friends. And this news is always the most immediate. The experience of being so perpetually surrounded by death is hard to convey.
The whole world is vocally struggling to curb the spread of Covid-19. But, in the case of Burma, the people have been made voiceless. Our experience tells us that the military regime is either intentionally removing the last lifelines of help available to the Burmese people to quell challenges to their rule, or is woefully lacking in will and capacity to manage a crisis of their proportion. Before the February coup, Yangon had close to 20 well-functioning Covid-19 treatment centers. Now there are four, all essentially being left to fail, turning back almost all those who need life-saving attention. The military, whose targeting of medical professionals is well documented, has cornered itself. Instead of building emergency treatment centers and field hospitals, the regime is investing heavily in crematoriums.
Very soon, they recently announced, Yangon’s funeral pyres will have the capacity to cremate 3,000 corpses a day.
Burma needs immediate humanitarian intervention from the international community more than any time before. Burma desperately needs your attention and help now.
Aye Chan Naing
Chief Editor (DVB)
1st August 2021
Photos – MPA