Myanmar, already on the brink of widespread civil war after February’s coup, is facing another crisis as COVID-19 cases surge.
Cases have spiked, leaving infected patients desperate for medical assistance. Since the pandemic began, Myanmar has suffered over 246,000 COVID-19 cases and over 5,000 deaths, according to the World Health Organization.
In recent weeks, virus cases have risen extensively, infecting thousands and leaving the country’s medical system on the brink of collapse. In southern Yangon, images have circulated online of patients lining up to refill oxygen cylinders.
A physiotherapist caring for patients in Yangon, told VOA the shortage of medical assistance is forcing patients to stay home and rely on doctors’ online advice.
“All people are desperately looking for oxygen,” she told VOA.
The opposition Civil Disobedience Movement has attracted a number of health care professionals several doctors who joined the CDM movement spoke with VOA in February.
Thousands of protesters have been arrested and killed, including health care workers. Meanwhile, as the military continues to grapple for control over the country’s health care systems, widespread distrust from the population remains. Those opposing the coup are refusing to seek military-help, leaving some left with a possible life-or-death decision.
Hein Lay, the founder of Modern Youth Charity Organization, aimed at assisting people with health issues and food shortages, told VOA the oxygen shortage is due to the military’s decision to close oxygen factories.
Patients are dying for no reason due to shortness of oxygen of breath,” he claimed.
But the organization says it hopes to set up its own factory that can produce oxygen for patients.
“We believe in we can save many lives and it will help those in need and save lives that should not die. People should cooperate with civil society organizations even if they hate the military council. Only then can this battle be won,” Hein Lay added.
Myanmar’s hospitals have overflowed with patients, and with limited staff are forced to turn patients away, leaving them without health care, with Yangon particularly affected.
Armed forces spokesperson General Zaw Min Tun responded to questions about the closure of oxygen suppliers, insisting the supply of oxygen is for hospitals and not private purchase. He added the military is adding new medical facilities to treat infected patients.
Nyan Win, a former adviser to ousted de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, died Tuesday from COVID-19. Nyan Win was a Myanmar politician that had been jailed in Yangon’s notorious Insein Prison following the coup.
The physiotherapist said that that the military coup “ruined” the progress that had been made against COVID-19, and that the current third wave could have been prevented.
“In the second wave [November 2020], the civilian government [the now-removed National League for Democracy party] is leading and care for all patients and patients with COVID 19 confirmed case, everything is running smoothly.”
“Myanmar has already paid for the vaccines. Health workers have also been vaccinated first dose and are waiting for the second dose. If there had been no political change at that time, almost all citizens would have been vaccinated. And the public may not have to face the third wave of COVID 19,” she said.
Myanmar has been using the AstraZeneca vaccine, donated by India, and prior to the coup, had planned to vaccinate all 54 million of its population this year.