July 13 (Reuters) – When Ma Yati felt weak and feverish and lost her sense of smell, she had no doubts she had COVID-19.
But even with up to 30 people a day dying from the coronavirus in her hometown of Kale in western Myanmar, she decided it was better to hide in a room in the house than to take an official test. or enter a quarantine center.
“My confidence in this junta health system is 0%,” the 23-year-old told Reuters by phone from her home, where she is now recovering and trying not to infect others.
“The quarantine center has no one to treat. There will be no one to help in an emergency,” she said.
Although there are no numbers to show how many, more and more people like Ma Yati are avoiding the state health system even as cases of COVID-19 increase, fearing quality treatment inferior in hospitals abandoned by doctors to protest against the military coup of February 1 and wary of giving legitimacy to the junta by asking it for help.
Hospitals were under intense pressure even before the upsurge, with some reporting that most of their doctors had joined the anti-junta Civil Disobedience Movement.
In addition to increasing the risk to their own health, doctors say people’s reluctance to get tested for COVID-19 or go into quarantine could lead to more infections.
In contrast, the ousted civilian government appears to have been more successful in controlling previous waves of infections due to people’s willingness to submit to testing, follow-up and isolation.
A spokesperson for the military authorities said they were doing everything possible and called for cooperation.
“There are difficulties now,” Zaw Min Tun said at a press conference. “We know that charities and people also suffer from difficulties and we want to ask them to cooperate with us.”
Neither he nor the Ministry of Health responded to further questions about the management of the epidemic. But one of the junta’s responses to the crisis was to open military hospitals to the public and strengthen services there.
“LIKE PICKING UP FROGS”
The latest wave of COVID-19 has crept into the country of 53 million people after the coup against elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Daily protests against the junta, strikes and violence have all hampered the delivery of health services.
On Monday, the official death toll from COVID-19 was estimated at 89, the sixth of seven days it hit a record. Daily cases surpassed 5,000 for the first time, more than double the highest figure from last year.
More than a third of COVID-19 tests were positive, a figure according to doctors indicates that the outbreak is much more widespread than official test figures indicate.
“The recent rise of COVID-19 in Myanmar is truly alarming,” said Joy Singhal, Myanmar delegation leader, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
“The very high rate of positive cases in recent weeks indicates much more widespread infections. This is quickly becoming critical as many people still have limited access to hospitals and health care,” he told Reuters from Myanmar.
With many medical staff joining the Civil Disobedience Movement, their ability to treat patients is limited.
Only 40 of the 400 health workers remained at West Yangon General Hospital in Myanmar’s largest city, doctors said.
At another hospital in Yangon, a 35-year-old doctor described the challenge of trying to cope with the health crisis with such insufficient resources.
“It’s like picking up frogs with a torn sack,” he told Reuters, requesting anonymity for fear of being humiliated by supporters of the disobedience movement for returning to work, although he did so under pressure from his family.
Some striking doctors have started clandestine consultations by phone to help patients infected with COVID-19.
After being at the forefront of protests against the junta, doctors have also become targets.
The World Health Organization has recorded 240 attacks on healthcare workers, ambulances, clinics and hospitals in Myanmar since the coup, almost half of all such attacks recorded worldwide at that time.
The junta has urged hospital staff to return to work, but some fear being arrested. They also fear being ostracized by their peers. About 70 health workers arrested since the coup are among the 5,000 current detainees, according to data from the activist group of the Association for Assistance to Political Prisoners.
When Khin’s parents, a 20-year-old medical student, fell ill in Yangon, she tried to treat them on her own. By the time it became clear that his father needed a hospital, his blood oxygen was so low that no one would have taken him.
“We gave him oxygen, but he passed away,” she said, now worrying about her mother, who is also on supplemental oxygen.
The queues for oxygen cylinders in Yangon are a stark indicator of the scale of the latest outbreak. The junta said it had limited supplies to individuals to avoid hoarding – dismissing charges of attempting to monopolize them. Read more
In Southeast Asia, countries like Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia are also suffering from their worst epidemics, in part due to the Delta variant first identified in India.
But opponents of the junta are making comparisons between its response and the fact that previous waves have been quelled under Suu Kyi – who is now accused of breaking coronavirus protocols among a range of accusations her lawyers deem absurd .
“Health systems and services have practically fallen into disrepair as a result of the army’s persecution and terrorism against the population,” said Sasa, a doctor and spokesperson for an underground national unity government.
Days before the coup, Myanmar had launched one of the region’s first vaccination campaigns, but it stagnated in the face of widespread public refusal to receive assistance from the military authorities. Former vaccination campaign chief Htar Htar Lin, who was appointed by the fallen civilian government, is among dozens of doctors who have been arrested. Read more
The military government said on Monday that vaccinations would now be stepped up, in part with help from its biggest foreign ally, Russia.
Reports by Reuters staff; Writing by Matthew Tostevin; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore
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