Preventing disease outbreaks is ‘race against time’ for cyclone victims in Myanmar

Preventing disease outbreaks is ‘race against time’ for cyclone victims in Myanmar

The Associated Press

International Herald Tribune

BANGKOK, Thailand: Getting supplies to survivors of a brutal cyclone in Myanmar is now a “race against time” to prevent a disease disaster, as many impoverished victims continue to await help a week after the storm, experts warned Saturday.

Reports of diarrhea and skin problems have already surfaced, and health officials fear waterborne illnesses will emerge because of a lack of clean water, along with highly contagious diseases such as measles. Children, including those orphaned by the storm, face some of the greatest risks.

The threat is heightened because many people in the worst-affected Irrawaddy delta were already in poor health prior to the cyclone. The storm killed some 23,000 people and left about 37,000 missing, according to state media. Tens of thousands more were left homeless in the military-run country, which has one of the world’s worst health systems.

“The fact that there are people we still haven’t gotten to is very distressing to all of us. We don’t know how many that is,” Tim Costello, president of the aid agency World Vision-Australia, said by telephone from Myanmar’s largest city, Yangon. “The people are all exposed to the elements, and they are very, very vulnerable. It’s a race against time.”

In the badly hit town of Labutta, family members were forced to use rusty sewing needles to close wounds at a hospital where no doctors or supplies were visible. One man lay dying from a lack of care after his foot was cut off in the cyclone.

The World Health Organization has reported children suffering from upper respiratory diseases, and with next week’s forecast calling for rain, there was yet another urgent reason to move quickly.

Fears of mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue fever, which are endemic to the area, also have heightened. However, outbreaks would not be expected for another week or longer because the mosquitoes need time to breed in stagnant water left from the storm, said Osamu Kunii, UNICEF’s chief of health and nutrition in Yangon.

Cholera remains another concern, but there have been no diagnosed cases. Kunii said Myanmar’s health ministry also agreed to start a mass vaccination campaign against measles.

“Once those diseases start, it’s very hard to control,” he said, adding that food and water were reaching more survivors but not everyone.

Some victims have been drinking whatever water is available, with many freshwater sources contaminated by saltwater or littered with decaying human bodies and animal carcasses. UNICEF has reported diarrhea in up to 20 percent of the children living in some badly affected areas. Injuries suffered from high winds and debris that struck people during the storm also remain a problem, with many suffering from raw open wounds.

Costello said frustration with the military junta’s slow response and restrictions placed on humanitarian aid entering the country has reached a critical point.

“The government initially admitted that this was bigger than them. But now they have said, ‘While we need more aid, we are the military. We made this nation, and we’re very proud of it and we can cope with it,'” Costello said. “It is absolutely clear that they can’t.”

Tens of thousands of people die every year in Myanmar, also known as Burma, from diseases such as tuberculosis, AIDS and diarrhea. Malaria alone kills about 3,000 people annually in a country where medical care is too expensive for most people to afford. In 2000, WHO ranked Myanmar’s health system as the world’s worst after war-ravaged Sierra Leone.

About 90 percent of the population lives on just US$1 a day. Millions also go hungry, with a third of Myanmar’s children estimated to be malnourished.

“It is an unfortunate reality that this storm hit a country that already had this very marginal … health system,” said Dr. Chris Beyrer, an epidemiologist from Johns Hopkins University who has worked extensively in Myanmar. “When you have malnourishment with infectious diseases, the fatality rates go up.”

He co-authored a critical report published last year that found the government spends only about 3 percent of its annual budget on health, compared to 40 percent on the military. The country’s ailing health system combined with the junta’s paranoia of foreigners is a cocktail for an even bigger disaster in the storm’s aftermath, Beyrer said.

“I think when it comes to this regime, nothing is that surprising,” he said by telephone from Maryland. “The fundamental issue is access. This is what we were arguing about for HIV/TB and malaria control five years ago — that it is access and that the international community is ready to help.”

Margie Mason covers medical issues for The Associated Press across the Asia-Pacific. She is based in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Myanmar’s junta continues with referendum despite millions affected by cyclone

Myanmar’s junta continues with referendum

despite millions affected by cyclone

The Gazette,

part of the canada.com Network

Aileen McCabe, Asia Correspondent, Canwest News Service

BANGKOK — As if the junta’s grudging response to Cyclone Nargis isn’t mind boggling enough, Myanmar’s generals diverted manpower from the aid effort Saturday to oversee a referendum on a new constitution.

A woman casts her ballot at a polling booth during the national constitutional referendum in Hlegu, 48 kilometers north of Yangon, Myanmar, May 10, 2008.The xenophobic regime clearly felt getting the vote out in areas not affected by the cyclone was at least as important as getting clean water, food and shelter to the 1.5 to 2 million of its citizens the United Nations now estimates were “severely affected” by Nargis.

State media is reporting more than 60,000 people are dead or missing after a cyclone packing winds over 100-kph and a tidal wave 3.5-meters high struck last weekend. The senior US diplomat in the country predicted this week that, given the delays in dispatching aid, the death toll could easily reach 100,000.

A woman casts her ballot at a polling booth during the national constitutional referendum in Hlegu, 48 kilometers north of Yangon, Myanmar, May 10, 2008. Reuters

The UN’s Richard Horsey estimated Saturday that aid has only reached about half a million survivors so far. A week after tragedy struck, more than a million more people are still waiting for rescue.

Myanmar election officials give ballot papers to v...Myanmar cleared two more UN aid flights to land on Saturday and allowed three UN trucks carrying enough tents and material to shelter 10,000 people to cross from Mae Sot, Thailand. Unfortunately, the trucks will take at least two days to reach the country’s largest city, Yangon, formerly Rangoon. And that is still days by road away from the worst hit Irrawaddy Delta area.

India, which Myanmar considers a friend, also brought in a transport plane full of supplies as well as two shiploads of aid the ruling generals have allowed it to bring in. Thailand, too, delivered one planeload of relief supplies.

Voting in a nationwide referendum in Hlegu. Myanmar’s junta is voting on a new constitution, ignoring pleas to focus on delivering urgently-needed food supplies to 1.5 million cyclone victims at risk from disease and starvation. (AFP)

photoIndia and Thailand have both been satisfied with unloading their supplies at the airport and leaving them for the junta to distribute. The UN is balking at accepting this kind of an arrangement and threatened Friday to suspend relief fights when a shipment of its energy biscuits was impounded by the military. It quickly backed down, but it is still trying to negotiate an agreement that will ensure the world community’s aid goes to those who need it most. 

Humanitarian workers and disaster relief experts are still barred from the country, at least until Myanmar’s embassies re-open on Monday. There is some hope that once the referendum is over the generals might open the borders, but it is small, given the statement issued by the foreign ministry Friday, which bluntly said the country would accept help, but not helpers.

It means the UN and aid agencies are relying on the small network of local staff they have permanently stationed in Myanmar to do a distribution job it would ordinarily take an army of international workers to achieve.

Two envoys from Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej also travelled to the former Burma on Saturday, hoping to convince the junta to allow access to foreign relief teams. Samak intended to go himself, but the generals told him they were “too busy” to receive him.

Meanwhile, the international community is becoming increasingly concerned about the impact the delays are having on the spread of disease in the worst hit areas.

The World Health Organization issued an assessment saying “outbreaks of communicable diseases such as dengue and malaria are now a big concern.”

It has 20 teams, including 10 experts in communicable diseases, on standby in Thailand, awaiting permission to go to Myanmar.

UNICEF, which has managed to get some supplies in with the help of the Thai government, says it is “very concerned about the impact of bad water on the health of children” that have seen left stranded, even orphaned, by the cyclone.

It said that UNICEF health specialists estimate “20 per cent of children in the worst affected areas already have diarrhea and cases of malaria have also been reported.”

The few reporters and aid workers who have made it down to the Irrawaddy Delta continue to report heartbreaking scenes of hungry, homeless people who have lost everything and are now forced to wash and draw water from flooded plains where dead bodies are still floating.

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Maxim Bernier offered Thursday to send the Disaster Assistance Response Team to the beleaguered nation to provide with humanitarian relief. In calling on the junta to grant visas to more aid workers, Bernier said the referendum should have been pushed back until the worst of the crisis is over.

“Given the widespread and devastating effects of Tropical Cyclone Nargis,” Bernier said, “Canada calls upon the Burmese government to focus on meeting the immediate needs of its people rather than pushing forward with the upcoming referendum on the Constitution.

“The window of opportunity to save lives and alleviate suffering is rapidly closing. We cannot afford to wait any longer.”

Saturday’s referendum vote was the first of any kind in Myanmar since 1990, when Aung San Suu Kyi, whom the House of Commons made an honourary citizen of Canada last week, and her National League to Democracy swept to victory in an election the generals refused to honour. The junta leaders claim it will pave the way for democratic reforms, but most observers believe it will actually strengthen the hold of the military, which has ruled the poverty-stricken Southeast Asian nation since 1962.

In Thailand, Japan and Malaysia Saturday there were small demonstrations protesting the junta’s decision to go ahead with the referendum despite the crisis that is rocking Myanmar.

More photos of Myanmar Cyclone victims

 More photos of Myanmar Cyclone victims

msnbc.com

This photo taken on May 3, 2008 and received May 6...

This photo taken on May 3, 2008 and received May 6, 2008 shows a monk walking past branches covering the road after being blown down by winds from Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar’s largest city Yangon. More than 15,000 people died after the powerful cyclone swept across Myanmar last weekend, including 10,000 in a single town, the military government announced on May 6, 2008 in state media.
3:50 a.m. ET, 5/6/08 MATT DAVIS / AFP/Getty Images

A woman donates money for the Myanmar cyclone disa...

A woman donates money for the Myanmar cyclone disaster, sponsored by a large food supermarketand organised together with the Hong Kong Red Cross on May 9, 2008. The Red Cross said that a chartered plane carrying five tonnes of emergency shelter equipment for cyclone victims in Myanmar has landed in Yangon. Myanmar state media has said nearly 23,000 people died and about 42,000 are missing after Cyclone Nargis swept through the country, but aid workers and embassy officials say the death toll could top 100,000. 4:00 a.m. ET, 5/9/08 LAURENT FIEVET / AFP/Getty Images

This photo received on May 7, 2008 and taken on Ma...

This photo received on May 7, 2008 and taken on May 3, 2008 from the Mizzima News shows people walking in water past an uprooted tree in Myanmar’s capital Yangon after the country was hit by cyclone Nargis on May 2-3. AFP / AFP/Getty Images

Residents collect water into tanks as they seek sa...

Residents collect water into tanks as they seek safe drinking water following devastating cyclone Nargis , in Yangon, Myanmar, on Thursday, May 8, 2008. AP

In this photo released by China's Xinhua News Agen...

In this photo released by China’s Xinhua News Agency, residents queue to get water after the cyclone in Yongon, Myanmar Monday, May 5, 2008. The storm has left hundreds of thousands of people homeless and without clean drinking water, said a spokesman in Bangkok Thailand for the United Nations office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Zhang Yunfei / AP

Cyclone-affected residents clean their belongings ...

Cyclone-affected residents clean their belongings along a street in Kungyangon in the outskirts of Yangon on May 8, 2008. The UN is to launch an urgent appeal to aid 1.5 million people affected by cyclone Nargis which hit Myanmar last weekend, a spokeswoman said. KHIN MAUNG WIN / AFP/Getty Images

 

Myanmar worker clean up the ground at the Six Laye...

Myanmar worker clean up the ground at the Six Layer Pagoda damaged by cyclone Nargis in the outskirts of Yangon on Friday May 9, 2008.AP

Residents collect water and shower in Yangon on Ma...

Residents collect water and shower in Yangon on May 05, 2008. More than 10,000 people have been killed in a tropical cyclone that struck Myanmar at the weekend, Foreign Minister Nyan Win told state television, adding that his nation would welcome international aid. KHIN MAUNG WIN / AFP/Getty Images

German Red Cross staff Jens Huniat drives goods wi...

German Red Cross staff Jens Huniat drives goods with a forklift through the central stock of German Red Cross for humanitarian aid at Berlin Schoenefeld airport Friday, May 09, 2008. German Red Cross will sent the first aid transport with a mobile water and sanitation module to Myanmar next week for relief actions after the cyclone disaster. Sven Kaestner / AP

This undated handout photo released wednesday, May...

This undated handout photo released wednesday, May 7, 2008, by New Words shows a slogan written on a road over a bridge in Myanmar encouraging a no vote against a key referendum on a proposed constitution backed by the junta. State radio has said that Saturday’s vote would be delayed until May 24 in 40 of 45 townships in the Yangon area and seven in the Irrawaddy delta. But it indicated the balloting would proceed in other areas as scheduled. AP

(FILES) This file photo taken on September 13, 200...

(FILES) This file photo taken on September 13, 2005 shows a military C-130 plane flying by the Lakefront Airport as it sprays insecticide over parts of New Orleans, Louisiana, following the flood that engulfed the city. A US embassy spokesman said on May 8, 2008 that Myanmar will allow at least one C-130 transport plane to deliver US emergency aid to Yangon in the wake of the Cyclone Nargis disaster that has killed thousands, but Myanmar’s junta has shown no signs of accepting a wider international relief effort.      BRIAN SNYDER / AFP/Getty Images

Myanmar election officials give ballot papers to v...

Myanmar election officials give ballot papers to voters at a poll station for a referendum in Hlegu, 30 miles (48 kilometers) north of Yangon on Saturday May 10, 2008. Voters in Myanmar trickled into polling booths Saturday for a referendum that was expected to solidify the ruling junta’s hold on power, even though the military rulers appeared overwhelmed by a devastating cyclone that killed tens of thousands.




A Spanish worker shows hygiene family kits waiting...

A Spanish worker shows hygiene family kits waiting to be sent to Myanmar at military airport of Torrejon de Ardoz near Madrid on May 08, 2008. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies launched an emergency appeal for almost six million USD to help cyclone Nargis victims in Myanmar. ANGEL NAVARRETE / AFP/Getty Images

Weekly news roundup of Myanmar Cyclone

Weekly news roundup of Myanmar Cyclone

From MSNBC

Cyclone Nargis aftermath

Myanmar Red Cross volunteers load water storage containers onto a truck Friday. Families can use these along with water purification tablets to have clean drinking water.

More aid is on the way to cyclone-ravaged Myanmar, but so is  rain.  A week after Cyclone Nargis killed whole families,  the military finally agreed Friday to allow a U.S. cargo plane to bring in food. Full story

International Federation Of Red / EPA

 
MSNBC News Services
updated 10:41 p.m. ET May 9, 2008
 

YANGON, Myanmar – More aid is on the way to cyclone-ravaged Myanmar — but so is the heavy rain.

 

MORE ASIA NEWS FROM AP AND REUTERS

 

World news  
  More
Asia-Pacific video  
Problems in Myanmar could threaten more lives
May 9: A desperate situation in cyclone-ravaged Myanmar was made worse Friday when incoming food was allegedly seized by the military junta, infuriating U.N. officials, who then suspended aid flights there. NBC’s Ian Williams reports.

Video

U.N. to Myanmar: Let aid in
May 9: The U.N. pressures the government of Myanmar to widen its doors to aid. NBC’s Ian Williams reports.

Myanmar’s misery
View images of the aftermath from Cyclone Nargis.

more photos

Interactive: How tragedy happened  
  

Click here to see the cyclone’s path, satellite images, eyewitness reports and more.

 

Appeal to International Leaders: Please show mercy by granting AMNESTY to Myanmars in your countries

Appeal to International Leaders:

Please show mercy by granting AMNESTY

to  Myanmars in your countries

Please read the following cruel, inconsiderate action in the Stars Online news, “Foreigners nabbed for violating work permit” by  V.P. SUJATA on Friday May 9, 2008  

 

PUTRAJAYA: Ninety-eight foreigners working in two factories in Port Klang have been arrested for violating their work permits.

The majority of them were from Myanmar (71) while the rest were from Nepal (21), China (four) and Indonesia (two).

The men entered the country to work in the plantation sector.

Two Malaysian employers were also detained for harbouring the illegal workers at their factories.

Immigration Department enforcement director Datuk Ishak Mohamad said the Ops Bersepadu conducted by 50 Immigration and Rela personnel on Thursday at Telok Gong was based on a report by the Anti-Corruption Agency.

“The total compounds to be collected from these men is close to RM1mil,” he said.

Another 36 arrests were made in Terengganu under Ops Sapu on the same day at a construction site off the East Coast Highway, he said.

During the 11.45am operation by 20 immigration personnel, 34 Bangladeshi, one Thai national and a Malaysian employer were arrested.

Please read this Deafening silence from Malaysia regarding Myanmar Cyclone?

During the great disaster in Myanmar, I hope if Malaysian government could do the followings to help us without spending a cent.

 

Please announce amnesty on all the Myanmar/Burmese undocumented workers/migrants and asylum seekers including those already in the detention camp. (At least if they could work and earn, they could help their families, relatives and friends.)

 

You could put a time limit for example six months to one year.

It is shameful that you are heartless to continue arresting and some of your agents are harassing them daily.

 

Dr San Oo Aung

17 Myanmar Illegal Immigrants Held In Kelantan

BERNAMA, RANTAU PANJANG, May 6 (Bernama) — The Anti- Smuggling Unit (UPP) Tuesday arrested 17 Myanmar nationals without valid travel documents in Kampung Kempas, Machang, as they were being smuggled into the country by a syndicate.

Kelantan UPP commander Mazlan Che Hamid said the Myanmar nationals, aged between 16 and 30 years, had been turned over to the Immigration authorities.

He said the van driver, a Malaysian, stopped the vehicle by the roadside and fled after realising that it was being tailed by UPP personnel at 4.30 am.

The UPP personnel had followed the van from Kampung Kedap here, some 40 km from Machang, he said.

– BERNAMA

 

Tzu-Chi, AirAsia, Rohingyas and Fujifilm offer help for Myanmar Cyclone victims

Tzu-Chi, AirAsia, Rohingyas and Fujifilm offer help for Myanmar Cyclone victims

(1) Rohingyas: Help our countrymen

Saturday May 10, 2008

JOHOR BARU: They may be hard-pressed for money, but Myanmar refugees want to come forward to help their compatriots back home after the devastation caused by Cyclone Nargis.

Myanmar Ethnic Rohingyas Human Rights Organisation Malaysia president Zafar Ahmad Mohd Abdul Ghani said it was time to show their solidarity, regardless of religious beliefs.

“We have asked our people to donate whatever they can afford, regardless of whether they are Muslim, Buddhist or Christian.

“Any problem that affects our brothers and sisters back home affects us, too,” he said, adding that it had been extremely difficult to contact their loved ones in Myanmar as communication lines were down.

He hoped the international community would come forward to provide long-term assistance to help Myanmar get back on its feet again.

“Please don’t come today and leave tomorrow. Thousands have died or been made homeless,” he said.

Rohingya Islamic Refugee Community Pro-Democracy Organisation chairman Mustafa Kamal urged the Myanmar community in Malaysia to donate RM1 each towards aid efforts.

He said there were as many as 14,000 Rohingya refugees in the country who were registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

“We hope the aid organisations will hand over the money directly to those affected as we are afraid half the money may be swallowed by the military junta,” he said.

He also urged donors to ensure that the aid was channelled through credible avenues and organisations.

 

(2) AirAsia ready to fly global aid to cyclone-hit Myanmar

KUALA LUMPUR: AirAsia is coming forward to offer air assistance to transport aid to cyclone-hit Myanmar.

The assistance includes sponsoring flights for aid workers and freeing up cargo space for aid materials, said the budget carrier in a statement yesterday.

“This will be a collaborated effort from the AirAsia Group and AirAsia X across more than 100 destinations, utilising its extensive network in all the Asean countries including China and Australia,” said the airline.

Non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and aid and humanitarian agencies as well as members of the public from around the region, can send in their requests to transport aid to helpmyanmar@airasia.com.

Each request will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis and is subject to seat availability, the airline said.

AirAsia has five flights daily to Bangkok, while its Bangkok hub currently provides daily flights to Yangon.

 

(3)Fujifilm proves that ‘saving lives’ is not merely a tagline

PETALING JAYA: Fujifilm (M) Sdn Bhd became the latest corporate company to contribute to The Star Myanmar Relief Fund, as donations continue to pour in for the victims of Cyclone Nargis.

Fujifilm senior executive director Paul N. C. Ho presented a cheque for RM50,000 to Star Publications (M) Bhd executive director and group chief operating officer Datin Linda Ngiam here yesterday.

“We appreciate the fundraising initiative by The Star to help those in Myanmar, whose people and country have been devastated in recent days,” Ho said, adding that the contribution was in line with the company’s message, From Saving Precious Moments to Saving Lives, derived from its medical systems business. (Fujifilm Malaysia’s medical equipment line includes radiography and X-ray devices.)

In IPOH, the Lions Club of Ipoh Host made a “spur of the moment” donation of RM20,000 to The Star Myanmar Relief Fund.

 Aid for Myanmar: Ngiam (right) receiving the M50,000 cheque from Ho at Menara Star in Petaling Jaya on Friday.

“We were having lunch when we decided to donate,” club president Justin Koo Sau Foh said when dropping off a cheque at The Star office here yesterday.
Koo said that reading about the sufferings of the Myanmar people in The Star had prompted the board members to act.
“We knew we had to do something to help the Myanmar people,” he said, adding that the club had ready funds to help those in need. 

A total of RM191,716.63 was collected by The Star yesterday. More than RM100,000 came from cheques received through the mail.

 

(4) Tzu-Chi sends recce team to Yangon

PENANG: A nine-man reconnaissance team from the Tzu-Chi Merit Society will be deployed to Yangon today to determine the feasibility of providing medical and humanitarian assistance to cyclone-affected victims.

The team, which departs from KLIA at 10 am today, will be in Myanmar for a week.

Team member Lee Chong Hoo, 38, said the team and a Thai national would carry out an assessment of the situation on the ground in the devastated nation.

They will bring 65kg of instant rice and 100kg of instant noodles to distribute to victims.

Lee said some 50 volunteers, comprising pharmacists, doctors and nurses, had been put on standby, ready to be mobilised at any time.

 

Bravo! Notorious Rela, carryon without even knowing your job

Bravo! Notorious Rela, carryon without even knowing your job

 

Do what ever you like. It is OK as long as you could continue intimidating all the foreigners. All your superiors are ever ready to help and support you.

 

Star Newspaper News_ “Pakistan embassy man held by Rela personnel”

PETALING JAYA: A Pakistan embassy staff was allegedly detained by Rela personnel as they did not recognise his Wisma Putra-issued identity card.

The embassy’s accountant was travelling on a bus to work when it was stopped by Rela members near Ampang Baru at 8.20am yesterday.

An embassy spokesperson said the enforcement team proceeded to check the identities of foreign passengers and detained the accountant in the process.

“He produced his identity card which was issued by Wisma Putra. It is equivalent to a passport, but they said it was not valid,” he said, adding that the accountant was taken to a Rela operations centre and was released two hours later after intervention by the embassy.

Selangor Rela director Khairi Mohd Alwee said his men took the accountant to the centre to verify his identity card.

“My boys hardly encounter the Wisma Putra identity card. That was why we took him to the centre to verify it. Once it was verified, we released him,” he said.

Rela director-general Datuk Zaidon Asmuni said he would investigate the matter as such an incident should not have occurred.