One Ventilator Per City

Human rights activist Nai Aue Mon speaks on COVID-19 from Mon State, Burma.

I strongly believe that the coronavirus was already in the country even before the first official cases were announced last week.

I know the medical facilities in this country, and that’s why I’m worried. Throughout Burma, in one village tract (an area of around four villages), there may be one government-supported clinic, but these clinics lack medicine and staff. Patients need to buy and bring supplies from the outside for their own treatment. There is usually one public hospital per township, and up to five doctors in the whole hospital. In Mon State, I believe there is one ventilator in the state capital—doctors have told me they are afraid that there are only around 200 ventilators in all of Burma.

Public awareness about COVID-19 is still really low. People don’t know the meaning of words like “quarantine” or “lockdown.” Travel restrictions have not been applied yet. The government is mostly releasing news about people who have infections that they “imported” from the West while traveling abroad. When we cannot get accurate information, it is dangerous, and the epidemic can spread easily. So can crime and violence.

The lack of education, lack of obligation, lack of respect for the rights of the people—this is why we could lose a lot of lives to coronavirus.

Yet hundreds of community-based groups are here and ready to volunteer to change this. International aid providers and donors can collaborate and strategize with us to make sure that virus prevention campaigns reach internally displaced people, refugees, and villages in conflict zones. Ethnic health organizations’ medics have been doing this work for decades—they know our people and our needs, and they have our trust.

Right now, community-based organizations in Burma are using social media to increase awareness and share the WHO’s messages about coronavirus in ethnic languages. They are already asking for donations locally to buy face masks and protective suits to prepare to fight the virus. We need to make sure marginalized people here can access healthcare without discrimination. We will fight for them.