September 23, 2009

The Burma Campaign UK is deeply concerned by reports it has received from Kachin and Karen State of a serious unknown disease which is particularly affecting children. Almost 2,000 people have contracted the illness so far, and symptoms in both states are similar.

Local people describe the illness as similar to flu, but more severe and much more highly infectious. Symptoms include high fever, bleeding noses, coughs and sore throats. There are fears it could be the H1N1 swine flu virus.

The outbreak in Kachin State has hit five villages in the north-east of the state, starting at a primary school in Manje on 13th September. The five villages affected are; Manje, La Gun, Nawng Neng, Tamung Nye and Hubren. More than 1,600 people have contracted the illness, and 900 of the cases are described as serious. Most of those ill are between 2 and 15 years old. There is no proper medical provision in the area, and the Burma Campaign UK has been told that the dictatorship has been refusing to give permission for medical teams from Myitkyina, the state capital, to travel to the area, and no medicine has been provided. On 20th September the regime sent two medical doctors to the area to take blood tests, but there has been no word on the results.

The outbreak in Karen State has so far hit four villages in Mutraw (Papun) District. 300 villagers have been affected, including half the 200 students in Ta Dar Der middle school. The villages affected are Ta Dah Der, Ta Uu Der, Tay Mu Der and Ta Kot To Baw.

Both of the areas where the disease has struck are ethnic areas where the dictatorship fails to provide healthcare itself, and also restricts the United Nations and international agencies from providing aid.  The international community has failed to sufficiently challenge restrictions on the delivery of aid. It has also failed to provide sufficient funding for alternative ways of providing aid to areas that the regime blocks access to, such as cross-border mechanisms.

The lack of healthcare in Burma is not because of a lack of resources. Burma’s military dictatorship must also be challenged to over its use of resources. It spends up to 50 percent of its budget on the military, while at the same time siphoning off almost $5billion in revenue from gas exports now believed to be in banks in Singapore.

“Dealing with a serious outbreak of swine flu or similar illness will be very difficult because of the restrictions on aid delivery and lack of money spent on health by the dictatorship,” said Nang Seng, Campaigns Officer at Burma Campaign UK. “It is time the international community did more to challenge the restrictions on aid, and also to stop the dictatorship looting our country’s wealth and hiding it in foreign bank accounts, while our children go without medicine.”

For more information contact Nang Seng on 020 7324 4710


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