Ethnic Health Orgs Demand ‘Unrestricted, Independent’ Access in Implementing COVID-19 Prevention

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Ethnic medical units say they are open to working with government health departments in COVID-19 prevention but are concerned that they are still not welcome in the existing system, director of the Karenni State-based Civil Health and Development Network (CHDN) Khun Philip told Kantarawaddy Times.

The Burmese government formed a coordination committee to work with ethnic armed organizations’ (EAOs) health teams on April 27.

“We don’t have any problem working with them. For government’s health departments, sometimes they are under pressure,” Khun Philip said. “I’ve heard that the authorities put pressure on government health departments not to work with CHDN because the CHDN was formed by EAOs.”

CHDN was created from the medical units of six Karenni armed organizations in Karenni State.

Khun Philip said he also had been told that since the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) had not signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) with the government and military, government health departments had been warned against working with CHDN in the past.

The current coordination committee will reportedly work with non-NCA signatory EAOs.
“For us, we only consider the issue of health. We are not concerned with the politics [of the situation],” he told Kantarawaddy Times.

The Ethnic Health Committee (EHC) responded to the formation of the government’s coordination committee with a statement last week and calling for a halt to military violence in ethnic regions. EHC vice chair Nai Banyar Mon said that ethnic health teams need safety and independence in order to work for COVID-19 prevention.

“We have many challenges. Among these challenges, we need independence, without any restrictions, when we work for COVID-19 prevention,” Nai Banyar Mon told Kantarawaddy Times. “To effectively fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, we demand that the army stop military offensives on ethnic regions,” he added.

The Burma Army destroyed two medical checkpoints set up by the Karen National Union on May 6, burning them down. Gunfire between the two groups ensued.

Nai Banyar Mon also said that the Burma Army had threatened local people in areas under the control of the Restoration Council of Shan State not to accept COVID-19 preventative materials from the EAO.

The Ethnic Health Committee is formed of nine ethnic medical organizations including the CHDN.

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