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Kayah (Myanmar) (AFP) – A handful of Burmese nurses in hiding from the junta have run makeshift clinics to treat Covid patients and resistance fighters with drugs smuggled past military checkpoints.
With bags full, they are always ready to flee as healthcare workers find themselves at the forefront of a civil disobedience movement against the February coup and a crackdown on dissent that has left more than 1 300 dead, according to a local watch group.
A boycott of government institutions left many hospitals unstaffed and the junta arrested and killed dozens of protesting health workers, rights groups said.
Aye Naing – her real name – quit her job at a public hospital shortly after the coup and in June began volunteering in Kayah state in eastern Myanmar, where the army and anti-coup fighters have clashed on several occasions.
“When the fighting starts, we have to run and hide in the jungle,” she told AFP in a dispensary set up in a school abandoned because of the fighting near the town of Demoso.
After a devastating wave of Covid in June and July – where daily new cases peaked at 40,000 – the junta said new infections had fallen to around 150 a day and the Omicron variant had yet to appear in Myanmar .
But with the struggling healthcare system in ruins, limited testing is being carried out.
In Kayah, an estimated 85,000 people have been displaced by violence, according to the UN refugee agency, many of whom have crowded into camps where infections spread easily.
Most of Aye Naing’s patients are displaced families, she said, as well as fighters from local groups of the People’s Defense Forces (PDF), militias that have sprung up across the country to combat the junta.
“I was told that there are not many doctors and medical personnel in this area, and the villagers are asking for them,” she said.
“So I made the decision to come and tried to get some medical supplies.”
In one village, his team performs swab tests through a small tear in a plastic sheet stretched over a bamboo frame.
People who test positive are prescribed paracetamol or vitamins, the only drugs available.
Donated oxygen should be used sparingly: filling the cans involves a trip to the nearest large city, passing junta checkpoints along the way.
After each shift, Aye Naing removes her plastic protective suit and disinfects it, along with her mask, ready for the next one.
Blockage of medicine
In an empty classroom, an infected PDF fighter remains in quarantine strumming a guitar.
In areas where resistance to his regime is strong, the military has blocked the delivery of humanitarian aid and medical supplies, according to a recent Human Rights Watch report.
“The Burmese military is checking everyone at their doors and arresting people they find with medicine,” said Hla Aung, another nurse working at the clinic whose name has been changed to protect her identity.
“It’s like we’re risking our lives.”
In the six months following the coup, 190 health workers were arrested and 25 killed, according to a report by Insecurity Insight, Physicians for Human Rights and Johns Hopkins University.
But Aye Naing said she would continue.
“The support of my parents keeps me strong,” she said.
“My father sent in as much medicine as he could.
© 2021 AFP