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Away from military’s eyes, Myanmar nurses treat Covid patients in secret

People in Yangon, Myanmar (Photo: IANS)

Myanmar nurses have been treating Covid-19 patients and pro-democracy fighters secretly after the collapse of the healthcare system under the military regime.

The medical fraternity in the south-east Asian country has boycotted health services in protest against the military coup, leading to a phenomenal rise in the rising numbers of coronavirus infections. Many nurses have left government hospitals to work for injured anti-military fighters.

The nurses have been treating Covid-19 patients with medicine that has been smuggled undetected across army check posts.

In the initial phases of the protests and demonstrations, soon after the February coup, the junta had come down heavily on protestors, including health workers. Till now, nearly 1,500 people have been killed in the clashes and protests.

News agency AFP quotes a nurse, Aye Naing–not her real name–who left her job in a public hospital in protest against the coup. She began volunteering in Kayah state in eastern Myanmar, where anti-coup fighters have fought the military. "When the fighting starts, we have to run and hide in the jungle," she told AFP at a makeshift clinic operating from an abandoned school.

Most of her patients are displaced families and fighters from the People's Defence Force (PDF)–the armed resistance from among the common people that has risen to battle out the military government through the use of weapons.

With medicines and oxygen always in short supply, the nurses usually have just paracetamol or vitamins to give to their patients.

Currently, the military government says that the Omicron virus has not been detected in the country and infections are low. But the numbers are low possibly because the health system has crumbled and little testing is happening.

India has, however, decided to dispatch a million doses of Covid vaccine as part of its humantarian people-oriented drive in Myanmar. Foreign Secretary Harshvardhan Shringla, who was on a two-day visit to Myanmar, gave the vaccines to the Myanmar Red Cross Society. 

The pro-democracy protests support ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi who faces a prison sentence of two years. Writing in India Narrative earlier, southeast Asia specialist Baladas Ghoshal points out that the "Junta will make it doubly sure that she (Suu Kyi) cannot come back to power anymore, not only through bayonet but also through ballot box, however unfortunate that might be for the people of Myanmar, who still considers her as their undisputed leader".

According to the Myanmar Ministry of Health, the country has seen a total of 529,503 infections with 19,251 deaths by December 26, 2021. 

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