On the Eastern border of Thailand, Mon State has been a regular transit point for tens of thousands of Myanmar migrant workers, moving in and out of Thailand. But since May this year that border traffic took a new and dangerous turn. As the COVID-19 pandemic spread, the numbers of infected workers returning home from Thailand kept rising, further spreading the virus.
The impact of virus has tested the state’s public healthcare system. Quarantine centers are swamped, medical personnel overworked, and numerous townships and areas have been placed under ‘stay at home’ measures. According to the latest figures from the government, there are nearly 1,800 patients, and 12 fatalities, so far.
Unable to cope with the rising numbers of infected people, state authorities have sought assistance from volunteer organizations. The volunteers – many of them young people – assist in transporting individuals suspected of carrying COVID-19 to quarantine centers, and also help with support services.
It is a taxing job, with long hours and it has taken a toll on volunteers. Worse yet, personal protective equipment (PPE), that is essential to do the job, has been in short supply. Being in contact with infected people at border crossings, and medical facilities has put volunteers and medical personnel at risk, resulting in several of them getting infected and having to go into quarantine themselves.
In December, one volunteer, who had been on the job for several months, passed away after a period of illness. As friends and other volunteers mourned his demise on social media one of them posted: “It is the first time a volunteer has died from COVID-19. We need to help our volunteers so that they could help people more effectively without endangering themselves.” Other comments follow suit.
A few weeks before the volunteer died, the need for PPE’s was dire. In late November, volunteer groups had already contacted the UN Development Programme (UNDP) for assistance.
“Some volunteer groups contacted me to ask for PPEs. They said the situation was grave and the assistance urgently needed,” said Ni Ni Lwin, Head of Office, UNDP Office, Mawlamyine. “The volunteer groups bear the brunt of COVID-19 control efforts throughout the state. So, they need PPEs to protect themselves, and they need them urgently,” he added.
To cope with the situation, Mon State has been working with the UN Development Programme, to try to control the spread of the virus through an Awareness Raising and Hygiene Campaign. The campaign reached out to vulnerable communities in the state – Mawlamyine, Thaton and Kyaikhto. It also provided state medical authorities with nearly 17,000 PPE items such as face masks, face shields, surgical gloves, hand gel etc., as well as 136 medical equipment sets including oxygen plants, walk through temperature scanners and ventilators.
UNDP has expanded its support to all levels of government, and will continue to assist administrations, in 2021 to mitigate the impact of the pandemic.