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July 14, 2020

The “Reach Out Strategy” in Combatting the Covid-19 Pandemic

Myanmar, like all other countries of the world is facing the Covid-19 pandemic. Like in most other developing country, Myanmar’s public health facilities, at the beginning of the pandemic, lacked testing equipment, the appropriate personal protective equipment and most of all shortage of doctors, nurses, health care workers. The Ministry of Health and Sports (MOHS) and under it the public health facilities, including the public hospitals and clinics have had to face the pandemic as best as they can.
In Myanmar however, there has been a strong political will, even in the early stage, of the corona virus crisis, to do the best it can to prevent it and to treat the people who inadvertently are affected by it. It therefore set up a Committee for the purpose even when the news of the “corona virus” epidemic was circulating around. Later however, with the World Health Organization’s Announcement of March 11, 2020; that the corona virus 19 crisis was a pandemic, Myanmar upgraded the initial Prevention and Treatment Committee to a National Level Central Committee headed by the State Counsellor. Subsidiary Committees at the Regional, Township and even Wards and Village levels were formed.
First and foremost the Central Committee launched, through its various subsidiary committees, an extensive Covid-19 education campaign through the media to inform the people about the Covid-19 pandemic and how best to confront it using the guidelines of the World Health Organization and the detailed directives and instructions issued by the MOHS. Many INGOs as well as NGOs pitched in for helping in the process as did the Volunteers (Saydanar Wundhans) including doctors, nurses, caregivers and ordinary citizens particularly the country’s youths.
Simultaneously priority has been given to detecting those showing the early symptoms of infection by alerting all the health facilities under the MOH, to set up preliminary health surveillance units, for weeding out people with fever and showing other initial symptoms of the disease. This procedure is also being undertaken at every port of entry as it is most likely that the virus will be “imported” through them. The various committees at every level are being directed to supervise the measures to detect the symptoms of the disease and to report to the MOHS health facilities, including the clinics and hospitals within nearest reach.
Sometime later the Central Committee was able to acquire, with the help and assistance of friendly countries, testing as well as other needed equipment and could perform the tests at the National Health Laboratory and later at the Medical Research Institute both under the MOHS. The tests were made on those who showed signs of Covid-19 infection. Those who tested positive to the Covid-19 virus were sent to the public hospitals designated by MOHS to treat Covid-19 patients. Thus far only about (144) persons showing symptoms, have tested positive among whom (5) persons have succumbed to the disease. However, with the migrant Myanmar workers returning from the countries concerned it is anybody’s guess as to how many would test Covid-19 positive in the not too distant future.
What I would like to highlight here is the “Reach Out Strategy” adopted by the Central Committee. By that strategy the State Counsellor herself, undertook to reach out to those Township/ Wards/Village Committees and persons actively engaged, at the “On Ground Level” in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. She has been holding, video conferencing sessions, televised over the Myanmar Radio &Television Broadcasting Network, with small groups of three persons comprising a Township/ Village level official, a member of the voluntary organization in the area, and a health worker (doctor/ nurse/ caregiver/ attendant etc.) in a casual conversation session lasting for about an hour or so, as to how they were performing, their difficulties, their needs, and most of all the help they needed to do their jobs effectively. This “teleconferencing” is being carried out thus far even to include remote States and Regions of the country.
It is indeed a unique process in line with democratic principles. It is a strategy to inform the “people” and make them aware of what the Government is doing to control the epidemic. In some way it is also a “monitoring” process to evaluate what is being done by the responsible people in the country to combat a dreaded infection using the resources available. It also enables the Central Committee and the MOHS to “fill in” some of the needs of the Township/Ward/ Village level organizations to help them do their work more effectively.
The best part of the “teleconferencing” is the very “informal” way it has been conducted by the State Counsellor herself. The talk commences with each of the three local participants presenting what they have been doing concerning the control measures set by the MOHS and what further help they need. After each presentation there would be a dialogue between the participant and the State Counsellor to further clarify the presentation and at the same time address the difficulties encountered by the presenter in performing his/her duties. The State Counsellor discusses with each participant as to what can be done immediately and what can be done after consultation with the Departments concerned including the MOHS. The “talk” can be interrupted at any time by the presenter or by the State Counsellor who would smilingly introduce anecdotes to make the talk lively. Her style encourages the three participants to lose their inhibitions and to frankly express their opinions and forward their “ideas” to help combat the Covid-19 Pandemic to the best of their ability. The talk ends with the State Counsellor wrapping up the discussion and giving valuable advice and encouragement to the participants as how to better perform their work.
The “teleconferencing” with the responsible persons at the basic level is a novel and a very modern idea indeed. Perhaps a team of researchers could be formed to “document” the proceedings and publish it for posterity.
With Charity to all and Malice to none.

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