Army and doctors sent to Naga amid outbreak
As a mysterious disease continues to claim children’s lives in a remote area of Sagaing, leaders are scrambling to help the victims, and have asked for permission to seek aid in India.
AS reports of more deaths filter out of a remote outpost of Sagaing Region, the army has been deployed and civilian volunteers are preparing to go to the scene to render assistance. Yesterday a local MP said the death toll had risen to 40 as a mysterious disease continues to spread.
The infected area straddles Lahe and Nanyun townships in the Naga self-administered region in the mountainous northeastern corner of Sagaing Region, near the border with India. The disease, which has not been officially diagnosed, has symptoms that include skin rashes, fever, difficulty breathing and coughing up blood. About 200 people in the zone have reported suffering such symptoms.
The New York Times reported on August 6 that health authorities had determined the disease outbreak is due to measles, a vaccine preventable and highly contagious virus.
Measles vaccination is included in the routine national program, but last year a health official told The Myanmar Times that a shortage of medicines has resulted in many children missing out on immunisation in the past. As a result, 34 measles outbreaks were reported in 2011.
In the current outbreak, more than nine villages have been affected in Lahe and Nanyun townships. According to Pyithu Hluttaw MP U Thet Naung (NLD; Lahe), the mostaffected area is Htan Khun Lama village in his constituency.
Naga youth and community leaders are scrambling to get help to the victims and the local administration has asked permission to cross the border and seek aid in India. The permission was reportedly denied.
Yesterday two Tatmadaw units were dispatched to provide security for the medical teams that were heading for the affected villages on motorbikes provided by the Naga zone’s government.
Dr Than Htun Aung, deputy director general of the Department of Public Health, said two disease control teams were on their way. According to locals in the Naga area, the World Health Organization and Médecins Sans Frontières have also promised assistance, a claim The Myanmar Times was not able to verify by press time yesterday.
“We’re trying to control the disease, but it will take at least 15 days to vaccinate people in the affected areas,” he said.
Naw Aung Sann, general secretary of the Council of Naga Affairs, said, “The death toll has reached 40, but no new deaths were reported last night or this morning. It’s too early to say things are under control.”
Blood and urine samples are being examined to determine a course of treatment and doctors are on their way from the Sagaing Region government office, the army and Nay Pyi Taw, he added.
Naw Aung Sann encouraged the government to put in place a state of emergency in the area.
Local authorities have been on alert since June 14, when a girl died in Lahe township, according to a statement issued by the council. On July 9, the tract/village administrator reported the outbreak to U Myint Aung, assistant director of the Government Administration Department, but the information was not passed to the Union government level. U Thein Zaw, deputy director of the Naga GAD, said he had been informed of developments only on July 23.
“One main cause of the deaths was the weakness of healthcare provision in rural areas. They didn’t pass on the information because they thought the deaths were normal,” said Naw Aung Sann.
Dr Than Htun Aung said, “In these remote areas, there are not enough healthcare staff and transportation is very difficult.”
Shanah Organisation spokesperson Yin Meko Chine said, “A few of us from Yangon will be leaving for the affected area in the next couple of days, as soon as we’ve assembled enough aid items to distribute. What we need now is medicines and nutritional support. Our medical teams will inoculate children in the surrounding villages, but we don’t know how many there are.”
A medical team will stay in the area for a month to treat the disease and render general medical support, said Dr U Than Tun Aung. – Additional reporting by Khin Su Wai
Naga children play in Lahe township, a remote part of Sagaing Region, on December 24, 2014, nearly two years before the town and nearby areas were hit by an unidentified disease that has left many children dead.
MYINT KAY THI
THU THU AUNG