|Rakhine health activist Miss Aye Myat Kyaw, who is monitoring COVID-19 in Rakhine State|
Note Passing: You can contact Aye Myat Kyaw for more information via her email at [email protected]
(Interview) Local Female Activist Monitoring COVID-19 Condition in Rakhine State; Lack of Expertise and Resources
May 02, 2020
Sittway. May 2 2020.
Covid-19 outbreak is increasing in Myanmar. But there is no infected patient reported in war-torn Rakhine State where UN Special Rapporteur called for fresh war crimes investigation of death of civilians. But many people are questioning why there is no coronavirus infected suspect reported while other parts of Myanmar are reporting. Arakan News wants to know more about it as well as monitoring, prevention, and treatments in Rakhine State while internet is shutdown. We interview Miss Aye Myat Kyaw, a young female activist who involves in Rakhine Info Center Covid 19 (RICC-19). She speaks for herself as health activist, but not speaking for on behalf of RICC-19.
Acronym: AN stands for Arakan News; AMK refers to Aye Myat Kyaw.
AN: When do you start monitoring and involving in RICC-19 and what do you do?
AMK: I have been doing Covid-19 monitoring in Rakhine State for two months. We have started it with our Arakanese colleagues in Yangon and set up a Facebook page, Rakhine Info Center Covid-19. We post news, do live shows, interview CSOs, and educate Covid-19 symptoms, teach preventive measurements, and coordinate with donors and bridging with the local CSOs. We also donate soaps and masks for certain extents.
AN: How many organizations are doing like you?
AMK: There are a few more volunteer teams in Toungup and Thandwe for monitoring. But there are a number of CSOs that do public awareness campaigns and distributing essential literatures, soaps, and masks for some townships and IDP camps as Rakhine Ethnic Congress and some more local township CSOs.
AN: Do you reach out rural and off-road villages and IDP camps?
AMK: No. we don’t, but some CSO members go out to IDP camps and pass leaflets and teach for personal protection technics. Then we discuss with them and post the news. But they cannot cover every village and every IDP camp.
AN: Do the government, foreign embassies, and WHO as well as international INGOs help you for monitoring and preventive advocacy works in Rakhine State?
AMK: No. They don’t help us. We relay on ourselves. We get some helps from Rakhine people in Yangon and oversea. But I heard only ICRC can mobilize in Rakhine State but very limited.
AN: How do you agree that the state’s health department said there is zero infection in Rakhine state so far?
AMK: Most people disagree with the health department report. There are photos with wearing PPE uniforms in the cremate place in Sittway. These photos were taken when they were cremating someone died and posted it on the Facebook. But no news journal wrote and reported about it. We don’t know how transparent the report is. Another factor to look at is Rakhine people are very poor. Young men and women from every village, even from mountainous areas, go out and work in China, Malaysia, Thailand, Mandalay, and Yangon. They came back to their villages before the quarantine measurement started in late March. Nobody knows there are some infected people in that village or not. In Rakhine culture, when a villager died for coughing, fever, and sudden dead, they believe it is natural. No one takes autopsy test.
AN: There is no lab in Rakhine state and heard that UN donated 10,000 test kids to Myanmar, how many test kids are distributed to Rakhine state, and how long it take to get results from the lab in Yangon?
AMK: Some say it take weeks to get the result, but it may be longer, and I don’t really know exact timeframe. This shows how weak the health system in our state. There is only one lab in Yangon and it can test only 60 suspects daily. In Rakhine state, there are 17 townships and at least 2 million residents. There are 58 million people in Myanmar, how this lab can effectively test the suspects from every state and division. Even worse, the results of the test and watch-out patients contain mix messages. The results can be known in 21 days; 45 days, or even need more days; and after negative of the test within 21 days and when test it again it shows positive. For the UN distributed test kits in Rakhine State, I am not aware of it and have no further information about it.
AN: There are people saying that Myanmar leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, military generals, and state’s chief minister personally hate Rakhine people because they are fighting against central government for greater autonomy?
AMK: We have to analyze current political condition and why democracy transition is failure and success first. When state is cracking down on hate-speech, the leaders also need to commit themselves and refrain from hate-speech. We elect our government to serve for us. It is foundation of democracy. But the foundation the government needs is commitment on the principle itself that is freedom of speech, freedom of information, growth of CSOs. None of these are allowed to exercise in Rakhine.
AN: Let’s make more specific. Many people say Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the generals are leaving Rakhine people behind in the middle of the Covid-19 outbreak and let entire population die with it, and that way the army may not have to fight against Arakan Army militarily; is that true?
AMK: If massive population are killed because of unprotected Covid-19 infections, it is genocide. Genocide does not have to be shooting the people and killed. Ineffective, systematic, intentional, and premeditated set up of weak health system and let people die massively with it is also genocide. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi says no one is left behind. It may be her government policy. But internet shutdown, lack of medical experts and infectious disease specialists, and poor equipment, lack of medicines and PPEs, and the state government mismanagement are the evidences the Rakhine people are left behind during the critical threat of Covid-19.
AN: Some international friends are concerned over populated 160,000 IDPs in the makeshift camps and live with very poor conditions, and if the virus infected to one person, it would separate to massive people. What your government does about it? What do you think the international friend concern?
AMK: Social distancing, sanitation, and wearing masks are effective prevention measurements. Thus, the international friends’ concern is very practical. What our CSO friends encounter problems in the camps when they go out to educate the people for virus infection are the refugees don’t even have enough water; they don’t have enough foods to eat; how can they buy soaps and sanitizers to clean their hands. Thousands of refugees sleep on the open floors and on the grounds and overlaying upon another. These overcrowded IDPs in the makeshift camps and in the Buddhist temple are very worrisome for all of us. I don’t know much about what the state government is doing, but I read the statement issued by the government that local relief organization is not allowed to build IDPs camps. There are thousands of refugees ran out of the village in Minbya township recently. They cannot live under the heavy rain without shelters. Monsoon season is coming and the weather forecast is warming a storm is heading to Rakhine from the Bay of Bangel.
AN: There are many military checkpoints in Rakhine State, and how these affect on the virus suspected swabs transportation to Yangon?
AMK: Only road transportations are allowed. All airlines flying to Sittway are shop. But the roadblocks slow down transporting swab samples to the lab in Yangon. However, President Office Spokesperson U Zaw Htay said on online press conference yesterday there are three categories of lifting the roadblocks; It means the government may ease the restriction but I don’t know how it will apply to Rakhine state because of military operation and clashing with Arakan Army.
AN: How effectively you can monitor the Covid-19 if internet blockage is lift off?
AMK: Very much. We can communicate with more people including refugees in IDP camps. Citizens can report the symptoms of suspect in villages and possible infection. The local people can read news and learn how people in other regions are doing to prevent the virus outbreak. They can also read the world news. Internet access is very essential for preventing virus spreading.
AN: U Zaw Htay said that students can learn from online teaching when quarantine is placed and schools are lockdown, and to do it, he said education ministry is testing the online schooling, how this apply to students in Rakhine State?
AMK: Rakhine kids will not be able to learn anything from online teaching. They will not be benefited on the online teaching at all. First of all, there is no internet access. Most school don’t have computers and Ipads. Many schools in the rural areas don’t even have roofs to protect the rain. Secondly, the soldiers occupy some school premises and set up military bases. Shells and artilleries landed in the schools and killed some students a couple months ago. The airstrikes hit the villages and schools sometimes. The online teaching the government is introducing also leaving Rakhine students behind, especially in the northern parts of Rakhine State that constitute seven townships.
AN: Any final words you want to pass the people.
AKM: I urge government to lift internet restriction immediately during the critical threat of Covid-19. If government is really concerned of stopping hate-speech, they should ban the internet in mainland as well because we are seeing they take advantage of internet freedom and attacking Rakhine people based on racial hatred. If government thinks Rakhine people in conflict zones misuse the internet by posting graphic photos, videos, and news when their love ones were killed, army must shop abusing first but respect basic human rights. Thus, the people will not post the news and graphic photos, and people in mainland will not have to write hate-speech. It is win-win solution. And, I pray there is no infection in the IDP camps and in entire townships in Rakhine State.