By LIBBY HOGAN / DVB
More than a month after initial reports of a deadly outbreak of measles in the Naga Self-Administered Zone started reaching people outside of this remote region of northern Burma, people there continue to die from the disease, despite efforts to contain its spread. To find out about the response to the health crisis hitting one of the poorest parts of Burma, DVB spoke to Naw Aung Sann, the general secretary of the Council of Naga Affairs.
Question: Can you describe the current situation in the Naga Self-Administered Zone?
Answer: So far, the death count has reached over 80. The emergency response from the government is also still slow and the health officers coming to the Naga area also have less concern to go to the Nanyun area — they mainly focus on Lahe Township. When we make a comparison between the two townships, the death toll is higher and the situation is more severe in Nanyun compared to Lahe Township. Health workers are coming to the Naga area, but they mainly focus on the Lahe region.
Q: Is it just the measles outbreak that is affecting people in the area right now, or are there other illnesses as well?
A: It’s not just measles but also malaria and flu. Another one is diarrhea.
Q: What support are you receiving?
A: We are getting support from both the national and regional government. The international organisations WHO and UNICEF came with the government around 12 August. The government has also allowed MSF to hold an office in the Naga region.
Q: So is the situation under control?
A: The government says the situation is under control but we are still very concerned. Not every region has a health officer or health workers or clinics, so it is very hard to control. So if the government says again that the situation is under control, we will not accept it.
Q: How many villages have been affected so far?
A: So far more than 16 villages. In nine villages, the death rate is very severe, but we cannot get detailed information from affected village administrators as communication is difficult. There are two types of issues in recording [the situation]: In Naga, there are more than 10 tribes, each with its own dialect, so language is a challenge. Also, the village administrators, when they have to make reports to the government, most don’t have access to telecommunications. So if you want to get information from the villagers, it will take at least two days. It takes two days for the local government get information, then they report it to the regional government, which takes another two days, and it will take them one or two days to get to the national government. So when the national government gets the information it is after a week. So we are pushing the government to do an emergency response. They say they are already making it, but it is not an emergency response, it is just a gradual response to the affected area.
Q: Moving forward, what improvements can be made to this relief effort?
A: We have made demands to the government to make more effective assistance to the affected area. The Naga area is very remote, like Chin State, so it has been neglected for many years. So it is time the government gave its attention and care to the Naga people. Naga is one of the ethnicities of our countries so we should have citizens’ rights and government protection.