COVID 19 EMERGENCY – Supporting an Emergency Plan in the Chin State in Myanmar

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Project location: Myanmar, Chin
Project start date: July 2020 - Project end date: July 2020
Project number: 2020-026

ASIA (Associazione per la Solidarietà Internazionale in Asia) was founded in Italy in 1988 by Chögyal Namkhai Norbu, former Professor of Tibetan Language and Literature at Naples University “L’Orientale” and one of the world’s leading experts in the history, philosophy and spiritual traditions of Tibet. ASIA is active in many countries of the Asian continent (Tibet, India, Nepal, Myanmar, Mongolia, Buthan and SriLanka) and in the regions of China inhabited by Tibetan people.

Despite the COVID19 emergency, ASIA has maintained its presence in Myanmar, carrying out an agricultural project in Chin State started in November 2019 and ensuring safety for its staff, partners and beneficiaries. With the outbreak of the pandemic (March 2020), thanks to the excellent relationships developed with the local authorities, ASIA immediately started with its own funds to help the hospitals present in Mindat District, South Chin State. Part of the sanitary material was distributed at the end of May–June 2020.

The first 2 known cases of COVID-19 were announced on March 23, 2020 in the state of Chin, where ASIA has been working since November 2019 with an agricultural project, financed by AICS. Both cases, a 36-year-old and a 26-year-old, returned from a trip to the United States and the United Kingdom respectively. Myanmar, having underestimated the possible consequences of the pandemic in the country for a long time, probably also to keep away problems related to political reaction, has finally started to move since the end of March to prevent the contagion from spreading irreparably, especially in areas where the population is already very fragile. Some restriction measures have been enacted but the situation is constantly changing. The schools have been closed, public events are suspended, the issue of the online visa is suspended and on arrival for foreigners, travel between the internal states is limited (Chin has been in lockdown since 23 March last). Lockdown also in cities like Mandalay, Pakokku and Yangon (from April 13 and, for the moment, until end of June) and other major centers.

Up to 21 May 2020 there were 193 cases ascertained but the lack of tests and the lack of specialized laboratories for the analysis of the tests suggest a much more dramatic situation, especially if one considers that the Burmese health system is considered among the worst in the world, after decades of abandonment under military domination. 
The health situation in remote areas worsens compared to the already very fragile situation in the cities. Primary healthcare is still out of reach for most people in Chin State, one of the most remote, isolated parts of the country, where three-quarters of the people, who mostly depend on small-scale farming to survive, hover below the poverty line. Poor transport and the state’s rough terrain mean rural residents often have to walk for days to reach medical care in the nearest town. Some arrive close to death while others do not survive the journey. As healthcare is not easily available, many people rely on the traditional remedies for seasonal (monsoon) sicknesses and only when they are seriously ill, they go to the hospital. Despite health education efforts by the government and NGOs, health awareness and hygiene levels among local people remain low. It is not for lack of facilities. Chin has 9 hospitals with a total of 750 beds, 20 “station hospitals” - health facilities smaller than town hospitals, but larger than rural health centers - 9 maternal and child health centers, and 331 village health centers. But staffing the health facilities is difficult to accomplish and most facilities are seriously underserved.

In this context, ASIA has decided to intervene in aid of the most vulnerable populations, in line with its principles and objectives. In one of the recent meeting (April 2020) between ASIA and COLDA staff and the Medical District Office, it turned out that the hospitals of Mindat and Kanpetlet (that are responsible also for the related rural and sub rural health facilities (53), need support for the purchasing of sanitary material.
Aware of the importance of a rapid response to hospitals, ASIA, with the help of private donations, immediately intervened by sending a first tranche of funds. Thanks to the rapid intervention, it was possible to distribute:

  • 10.000 Surgical mask (medical use only)
  • 5.000 E-gloves
  • 9.000 Caps
  • 1.200 Aprons
  • 50 Hand Speakers
  • 50 PPE (complete kit: Glass, Hand Glove, Socks, Face Shell, Mask, Cap)
  • 20 Sprayers (4 gallon)
  • 600 N95 masks

These numbers are still very small and do not cover all the needs requested by the hospitals in the District of Mindat but represented a starting point in the prevention of contagion and a valid initial aid for the health facilities in the area where ASIA is working. With increasing number of cases ascertained (the unofficial ones are even more numerous) the hospital has expressed the need of further sanitary material. 
In response to the Covid-19 emergency, the Nando and Elsa Peretti Foundation has awarded a grant to ASIA to help reduce the spread of COVID19 infection in Chin State, supplying the hospitals in the District of Mindat of additional sanitary materials (surgical masks, gloves, caps, aprons, hospital beds, infusion pumps). 

The activities will be coordinated and supervised by the staff of ASIA and COLDA, in coordination with the local district authorities and the hospitals of Mindat and Kanpetlet. The procurement and purchasing process will be e followed by ASIA staff and COLDA staff in loco. The materials will be found in Yangon from verified suppliers and with standard equipment. Then the materials from Yangon are transported to Mindat for the first distribution. From Mindat they continue towards Kampetlet. The area is remote but accessible (about 12 hours of travel). Although the state of Chin is still in lockdown, ASIA has had a special transport permit as the material transported is sanitary. The overall supervision of the project will be ensured by the ASIA staff in Italy.

Expected result: the Mindat District Hospital, Kanpetlet Hospital and the related health centers of the Mindat District are provided with tools and means to stem the contagion on the territory.
- at least 332 doctors and paramedics of the Mindat Township + 143 doctors and paramedics of the Kanpetlet Township will direct benefit of the intervention (direct beneficiaries) and the total population (around 73,587 inhabitants) will be able to receive better healthcare in the event of COVID19 infection (indirect beneficiaries).

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