Treating Covid patients in secret Myanmar clinics

Those who test positive are prescribed paracetamol or vitamins, the only medicine on offer

A handful of Myanmar nurses hiding from the junta have been running makeshift clinics to treat Covid patients and resistance fighters with medicine smuggled past military checkpoints.

With bags packed, 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 killed more than 1,300, according to a local monitoring group.

Aye Naing — not her real name — left her job in a public hospital soon after the coup and in June began volunteering in Kayah state in Myanmar’s east, where the military and anti-coup fighters have clashed repeatedly.

After a devastating Covid wave in June and July — where new daily cases peaked at 40,000 — the junta has said new infections are down to around 150 per day, and that the Omicron variant is yet to appear in Myanmar.

In Kayah around 85,000 people have been displaced by the violence, according to the UN’s refugee agency, with many crowded into camps where infections spread easily.

“I was told there weren’t many doctors and medical workers in this area, and that villagers were asking for them,” she said. 

At one village, her team conducts swab tests through a small tear in a sheet of plastic stretched over a bamboo frame.

Donated oxygen must be used sparingly: refilling canisters involves a trip to the closest large town, passing junta checkpoints along the way.

– Blocking medicine –

In areas where resistance to its rule is strong, the military has blocked the delivery of humanitarian aid and medical supplies, according to a recent Human Rights Watch report. 

“It’s like we are risking our lives.” 

But Aye Naing said she will keep going.

“My father has sent as much medicine as he can.”

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