Myanmar doctors in hiding and hunted by the junta as Covid crisis ravages the country

Images from the largest metropolis, Yangon, present households of the sick ready at oxygen vegetation within the hopes of refilling tanks, crematoriums filled with mourners and coffins, and funeral employees and volunteers in white hazmat fits working continuous at cemeteries to bury rows of shrouded our bodies.

Civil society has been eroded and the already-vulnerable well being care system has collapsed. Doctors and different well being employees, a lot of whom went on strike to protest the coup, have been compelled into hiding to flee assaults and arrest from junta forces.

As Myanmar now faces its worst Covid-19 outbreak, docs and volunteers who spoke to CNN accuse the army of utilizing the pandemic as a weapon in opposition to the individuals. They mentioned the army has restricted essential oxygen gross sales to the general public and refused sick sufferers at military-run hospitals. Covid-19 outbreaks have additionally reached prisons, together with the principle jail, Insein, housing anti-coup protesters.

Terrified residents are selecting to self-treat at dwelling, docs say. When they do go to hospital they’re usually turned away because the services are operating out of oxygen, therapies and beds, and there is not sufficient workers to deal with sufferers, they mentioned.

On Wednesday, the military-controlled well being ministry reported 6,093 new coronavirus instances, bringing the entire confirmed to 246,663. There had been additionally 247 reported fatalities, with the confirmed loss of life toll from Covid-19 5,814. But docs and volunteer teams say these numbers are woefully under-reported. A once-promising vaccine program has crumbled underneath junta rule, and minimal testing, an absence of official knowledge, and widespread public mistrust of the army means nobody has a transparent concept of the extent of the disaster.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” mentioned one physician who didn’t need to be recognized for concern of reprisals. “We are seeing patients deteriorating and people dying everyday.”

Joy Singhal, head of the Myanmar delegation of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies mentioned the “rapid rise of Covid-19 in Myanmar is deeply concerning and in recent days around a third of people tested are positive.”

“This rise of cases has placed the entire health system under huge strain,” he mentioned. “We urgently need greater levels of testing, contact tracing and vaccinations in all areas of the country.”

In the absence of a functioning medical system or official nationwide Covid-19 plan, and with a public distrustful of something linked to the army junta, a community of underground docs and volunteer teams try to plug the gaps.

Desperate seek for oxygen

Every day, determined members of the family scour Facebook teams and encrypted apps looking for oxygen provides for his or her family members. The phrases “urgent,” “emergency” and “please help me” repeated in a continuing circulation of determined messages.

“My grandpa is very low in oxygen. Please help him. Is there any place where he can get oxygen?” asks one frightened consumer on a Facebook group serving to these in want of oxygen. Others provide tanks after their family members have died.

Snowy, 25, is a part of a gaggle of 12 in Yangon who attempt to ship oxygen tanks and different provides to these posting on social media. Each day she contacts personal oxygen suppliers and delivers tanks to these in want. But the provision isn’t sufficient.

“They say, ‘save us, save us.’ But how can I save them? I’m not a doctor. I can only give them access to oxygen when I can get it. There are some people who die because we couldn’t get the oxygen in time,” she mentioned. Snowy requested to make use of a pseudonym to guard her security.

It’s not simply oxygen in brief provide. Snowy mentioned she tries to supply oximeters — gadgets used to check oxygen ranges — oxygen concentrators, circulation meters, ventilators and different gear however they’re costly and scarce.

The army junta mentioned it banned some personal oxygen vegetation from promoting to most of the people to cease residents from hoarding, according to Reuters. Charities have additionally been prevented from procuring oxygen by the army, in accordance with a number of docs and volunteers CNN spoke to.
Volunteers wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) pray in front of bodies of people who died from  Covid-19 during their funeral at a cemetery in Mandalay on July 14.

“My friend, whose mother was low on oxygen levels, he queued and the military soldiers arrived with more than 50 tanks in their trucks and they sent everyone back out and filled their tanks first,” mentioned Snowy. CNN can’t independently confirm the main points of the accounts.

In state media, the army at first denied there was an absence of oxygen, blaming shortages on “unscrupulous persons” spreading rumors.

“We have enough oxygen,” coup chief Gen. Min Aung Hlaing mentioned, in accordance with the Global New Light of Myanmar. “Some try to do negative activities while gaining political profits. They buy the oxygen cylinder and spread the rumor that the country does not have oxygen anymore.”

In latest days, nonetheless, the military-controlled well being ministry mentioned it was ramping up its coronavirus response. State media has been stuffed with tales of oxygen deliveries to hospitals throughout the nation, the constructing of Covid-19 facilities and oxygen vegetation and extra therapies being made out there for coronavirus sufferers.

But residents say the state of affairs on the bottom is totally different. Kyaw Naing, not his actual title, mentioned 9 members of his household in Yangon have contracted Covid-19. He mentioned it is nearly not possible to get oxygen or be admitted to a hospital.

“We saw notices being put up saying that now they (the military) will stop giving oxygen supplies to members of the public, because the notices say they are not being stocked for use in private hospitals,” Kyaw Naing mentioned. “On the one hand, they’re saying they are using this oxygen for private, public hospitals. At the same time, these public hospitals are not accepting or not admitting Covid-19 patients.”

CNN was unable to succeed in the army and military-run well being ministry for touch upon the outbreak and the state of oxygen provides.

Underground docs deal with sufferers

The regime has additionally referred to as on docs, nurses, and different specialists to volunteer at public hospitals and Covid-19 facilities “due to a lack of manpower.” But docs say the army can’t assure their security and so they concern arrest and attainable torture.

Doctors had been key drivers of the preliminary protest motion, and plenty of have been arrested by the Junta for his or her involvement.

“There have been 240 documented cases of attacks on health care facilities and health care professionals. As of last week, you have over 500 outstanding arrest warrants for doctors and nurses,” mentioned Tom Andrews, UN particular rapporteur for human rights in Myanmar. “You can’t attack Covid-19 and attack doctors and nurses and clinics at the same time. That is exactly what is making a bad situation exponentially worse in Myanmar.”

Doctors compelled to enter hiding to evade arrest have arrange underground networks of clinics and tele-consulation providers. Each day they reply a whole bunch of requests from sick sufferers, on apps, social media, and video platforms — nonetheless they’ll attain the individuals.

“We are treating at least 150 people per day. More than half of those patients complain of fever, anosmia (lack of smell) and Covid-like symptoms,” mentioned the physician, who didn’t need to be recognized. “Half of patients are severe cases.”

People wearing face masks wait while caskets with bodies are queued outside a crematorium at the Yay Way cemetery in Yangon, Myanmar, on July 14.

The physician, who was an orthopedic surgeon earlier than the coup, mentioned his tele-consultation group EZ Care handled greater than 1,000 sufferers prior to now month.

“Yesterday, two patients died when we were doing the consultation because there was a lack of oxygen,” he mentioned. “Without oxygen we can do nothing.”

Another younger physician in Yangon mentioned six of her sufferers died in at some point final week; the youngest was 49. She mentioned she visits the very sick at dwelling however feels helpless within the face of the rising disaster.

“I saw a patient at his home and it’s heartbreaking to see him struggling to breathe. It’s like he was drowning in water but he is actually drowning in air. He didn’t get oxygen in his lungs and blood. After the visit I got a phone call from his family and they said he had gone,” she mentioned.

The younger physician, who additionally did not need to be named for security causes, mentioned persons are in a state of panic.

“There is a shortage of medicine and proper care, people are very panicked as they don’t know where to go or how to get treatment, so they just buy every medicine that says on online ‘this one is for Covid’,” she mentioned.

She works all day and evening, answering frantic messages on encrypted apps or giving consultations by way of video, however she mentioned these at dwelling haven’t got the required medical data to deal with their family members.

“They don’t know how to handle oxygen concentrators, cylinders, how to assemble the lines from the concentrator to the patient, or how much oxygen to give to the patient,” she mentioned.

The physician, who mentioned she was a medic in the course of the protests and helped demonstrators who had been shot, mentioned the army has failed the individuals.

“We have lost so many lives here who aren’t supposed to die this way. Some were shot, some were tortured to death, some died because they didn’t get proper treatment, some died because they didn’t get enough oxygen. These are not reasons why people should die in 2021, in the 21st century,” she mentioned.

What is inflicting the rise in instances?

The newest outbreak is believed to have began a few month in the past in western Chin state, which borders India, and comes because the Delta variant is hitting nations throughout Southeast Asia.

The docs CNN spoke to mentioned whereas there have been medical workers shortages and testing was missing, earlier coronavirus waves in Myanmar had been introduced underneath management. Before the coup, Myanmar was one of many first nations within the area to acquire vaccines and civilian chief Aung San Suu Kyi had deliberate to launch a nationwide vaccine program in April.

After the army takeover, Covid-19 testing, prevention measures and the vaccine program collapsed within the chaos of the upheaval. Several distinguished medics concerned in Myanmar’s pandemic response had been arrested, together with the previous head of its vaccination marketing campaign, Htar Htar Lin, and the pinnacle of emergency medication at Yangon’s University of Medicine, who managed earlier Covid-19 responses, Maw Maw Oo.

In latest days, the military-controlled well being ministry mentioned it’s aiming to get 50% of Myanmar’s 55 million inhabitants vaccinated this yr, in accordance with state media.

A man uses his mobile phone in front of empty oxygen canisters, which people are waiting to fill up, outside a factory in Mandalay, on July 13.

“More than 1.6 million people have been vaccinated, and vaccines are constantly being imported to ensure that 100% of the population is fully vaccinated. About 750,000 vaccines from China will arrive on July 22, and more will arrive on July 23 and 24. In addition, plans are underway to receive more vaccines in the first week of August,” a press release mentioned.

But even when these doses are procured, residents say there may be deep mistrust within the regime to provide them a lifesaving shot, when it continues to kill and detain its residents. Concerns are additionally rising for the destiny of the individuals if the state of affairs is left unmanaged.

“It staggers the imagination as to what will be happening just really over the next few days, this thing is out of control,” mentioned UN particular rapporteur Andrews. “This is a complete catastrophe. The entire health care system is in shambles. The number of people being infected is just going through the roof, and no one trusts this junta to provide them with information or health care or vaccines that they need to confront this pandemic.”

Snowy, the volunteer, continues to exit on daily basis in Yangon to attempt to procure oxygen for the sick and determined. She lives along with her mom and grandmother however isolates when she returns dwelling. She mentioned she just lately began to really feel sick.

“I hope its not Covid,” she mentioned.

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