Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Myanmar’s lagging health system gets boost from army of volunteers

Having escaped relatively unscathed, the country is now experiencing one of the largest surges in the region.

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Myanmar has not been hitting the headlines with reports of its Covid-19 numbers like Indonesia or the Philippines have, but it is quietly fighting its own battle with the virus.

The country’s coronavirus infections are soaring, and the antiquated and underfunded health facilities are among the world’s worst.

The health system, such as it is, relies on thousands of volunteers to fill the gaps left by the government.

Until recently, the country seemed to have escaped the runaway numbers other countries have been reporting, but a current surge in infections has resulted in the death toll rising to 371 of nearly 17,000 cases.

According to Reuters data, Myanmar’s death toll has doubled in eight days, that is faster than any other country recording more than five deaths.

Nearly 50,000 people, including patients, their close contacts and returning migrant workers undergoing quarantine are being housed wherever they can be crammed in, including in schools, monasteries and vacant government offices.

Most of these places, rife with infection, are staffed by unpaid volunteers wearing whatever personal protective clothing they can get their hands on.

Without the volunteers, deaths would skyrocket most agree.

Myanmar has imposed a broad lockdown to try to stop the virus from spreading, and volunteers are supposed to keep away from their families after they start work at their assigned location.

It’s a stressful and exhausting life.

Kyi Myint is staying with his team of 15 in a Buddhist temple in Yangon. “This is not the time to get depressed,” he said. ”We are helping as much as we possibly can, but the situation is not good. Our ambulances and crews can’t even get a break.”

Across the city, volunteer Zar Ni, 29, is struggling with lack of sleep. “I usually get just an hour or two’s sleep whenever I can. At first I feared I would be infected but I no longer do.”

The government is insisting that national elections will go ahead as scheduled on Nov 8.

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