Myanmar and COVID-19: How the Military Coup is Worsening the Health Crisis
Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, has been making headlines in 2021. From the February 1st military coup to the current Covid-19 third wave that has hit like a “tsunami,” according to the World Food Programme.
Covid-19 has been on the rise, with new variants reported in several countries around the globe irrespective of the vaccination measures in place. Myanmar’s Covid-19 situation hits differently, especially with the political unrest that has been in the country for over six months.
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Myanmar Military Coup
On 1 February 2021, the military in Myanmar took power following Aung San Suu Kyi and her party NLD’s landslide electoral victory in November.
Myanmar has been on partial democracy governance since 2011, with the military having considerable political power as per Myanmar’s 2008 constitution. Following the coup on February 1, the army declared a year-long emergency.
Aung San Suu Kyi was put under house arrest. Over 3,300 people have been detained, while over 800 people have been killed due to the military take over in February.
Myanmar’s Military Coup Effects on Healthcare
The military coup in Myanmar is primarily to blame for the rampaging spread of Covid-19 in the country. When the military took over, there was colossal unrest, attacks on health workers, and an increase in cases of Covid-19.
Attack on Health Facilities and Workers
The health sector in Myanmar is on the brink of collapse not because of the Covid-19 pandemic but because of the military’s indiscriminate attacks.
Health care workers and health facilities have been attacked over the last six months. As of August 12, 2021, the World Health Organization has recorded 260 attacks on health care personnel/facilities in Myanmar, resulting in 18 deaths and 59 injuries.
The military is operating the health care facilities. It has issued arrest warrants of over 700 doctors and nurses for their participation in what is termed as civil disobedience against the coup.
With such uncertain conditions, most healthcare workers under strike cannot practice openly in any facilities for the risk of arrest and detention.
Attack on Covid-19 Measures
The military in Myanmar has posed serious risks on the pre-coup Covid-19 measures in the country. Covid-19 response measures have been affected by military obstruction more than 15 times.
Personal protective equipment and oxygen supplies have been continuously confiscated for exclusive use by the military in the regions of Chin, Kayin, and Yangon.
The speculated increase in vaccination plans in the pre-coup government has been maimed. Covid-19 vaccinations are going on in Myanmar but at low rates due to the unrest in the country.
The military has barred political prisoners infected with Covid-19 in Yangon from obtaining treatment.
Covid-19 Statistics in Myanmar before and after the Coup
On 31st January 2021, Myanmar had a total of 140,145 confirmed Covid-19 cases with a 281 daily increase and a 0.2% daily change.
As of 31st July 2021, Myanmar has a total of 299,185 confirmed Covid-19 cases with a 4,725 daily increase and a 1.6% daily change.
Looking at the WHO statistics, Myanmar has recorded 159,050 more cases than before the coup in 6 months. This is an alarming rate, even worse with the socio-economic and political uncertainty in Myanmar.
A Looming Health Problem in Myanmar
Yes, the political unrest and Covid-19 “tsunami” third wave is a double crisis in Myanmar. But there is more to what awaits Myanmar in matters of health.
Over the last six months, there has been a decline in child immunization - blame it on the unrest and open attack on women and children following the coup. The near-collapse of the health system in Myanmar also accounts for the low immunization rates in the country.
UNICEF Myanmar has expressed concerns over the low immunization in the country. Severe outbreaks of measles, diphtheria, and polio are predicted to occur soon.
Poverty and Hunger Doubles
As of 2017, Myanmar had a poverty rate of 24.8 percent, and more than half the population risks falling into poverty by 2022. Over the last six months, the military coup has left families at dire poverty levels, with many people lacking food, which the WFP considers a double hunger issue.
The humanitarian support that Myanmar needs has tripled following the coup, and it is literally in the middle of an uncertain crisis.
The WFP Myanmar Country Director Stephen Anderson said:
Amid the “triple impact of poverty, the current political unrest and economic crisis,” coupled with the rapidly spreading third wave of Covid-19, that is “practically like a tsunami that hit this country,” the people of Myanmar are “experiencing the most difficult moment in their lives.”
The Myanmar Double Crisis is no longer a Local Problem
There have been over 245,000 newly displaced IDPs due to the military coup in Myanmar. These large numbers may not be contained in Myanmar if the unrest goes on.
Myanmar will soon become the exporter of virulent Covid-19 strains as more people are displaced from their homes and move out of the country. Hence closing borders with the intent of containing Covid-19 will not be effective.
Undoubtedly, if polio or any vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks happen in Myanmar, its neighbors will also be vulnerable - especially those with low national immunization coverage.
International partners should not turn a blind eye to the happenings in Myanmar. The situation is beyond politics as it threatens global health.
The unrest, killings, detaining, and police brutality in Myanmar have weakened the Covid-19 measures and, most significantly, the human rights of Myanmar’s citizens.
We can all support Myanmar by providing humanitarian assistance. Let us not watch in luxury as Covid-19 and political unrest weaken Myanmar because the situation is likely to get out of hand and become a significant global deal.
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Nondiah Khalayi is a Kenya-based Statistics and Programming student at Kenyatta University, a Health Science student at the University of the People, and also a Content Writer at IYOPS. Being an INFJ-T personality, she enjoys a calm life, coding, data analysis, reading, and writing multiple-niche research-based articles.