The Ethnic Health Committee (EHC) has demanded that the military not threaten or block activities carried out by ethnic armed organizations’ (EAO) health departments regarding COVID-19 prevention in ethnic states.
The EHC also called on the military to halt all operations and violence in order to fight the pandemic.
On April 27, the government formed a national COVID-19 coordination committee to negotiate with EAOs. The move was endorsed by President Win Myint. The EHC responded last week and said that even with the formation of this committee, EAO medics continue to be threatened in ethnic regions by government forces.
There are multiple examples of the military getting in the way of COVID-19 prevention work being done by ethnic health teams, an EHC spokesperson said.
“The Burma Army ordered the KNU [Karen National Union] to close health checkpoints within the KNU’s territory in Thaton District,” Saw Nay Htoo, who is working with the EHC, told Khonumthung News, adding that clashes had also taken place in the area. “The Burma Army has threatened local people not to accept COVID-19 preventative materials from the RCSS [Restoration Council of Shan State].”
Burma Army troops also destroyed two medical checkpoints set up by the KNU’s Brigade 5 between Hpapun and Kamamaung on May 6, setting them on fire. Tension remains high between the two forces in the area.
Government forces also attacked the RCSS’s medic team, which was working on COVID-19 prevention in Mongpan Township in April. They threatened to arrest locals if they admitted to receiving medical materials or medicine from the RCSS.
“COVID-19 is a pandemic. This is the enemy of human beings. This is the enemy of the country. We can get victory over the virus when we are all working together,” Saw Nay Htoo told Khonumthung News. “There will not be a success if our activities are restricted or if we are working with fear,” he explained, adding that ethnic health organizations are in need of technical support and medical supplies.
According to the EHC statement, the Burma Army needs to stop military offensives against ethnic armed organizations and domestic and international donors need to provide financial assistance directly to ethnic health teams working on COVID-19 prevention.
The EHC also said that a coordination mechanism is needed between respective State Health and Sports Departments and ethnic health organizations fighting COVID-19.
The government formed their COVID-19 coordination committee under their ‘No One Left Behind Policy’ regarding virus containment. The main duties of the government’s COVID-19 coordination committee are: to exchange information about COVID-19 prevention, to monitor and investigate people crossing borders, to trace contact of the virus, to promote harmonious cooperation in COVID-19 control, and to follow the guidelines of the National Reconciliation and Peace Council when cooperating with EAOs to prevent COVID-19.