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Myanmar experiences its highest COVID-19 numbers to date

The Presbyterian Church of Myanmar, a PC(USA) global partner, asks for prayers

by Kathy Melvin | Presbyterian News Service

The Presbyterian Church of Myanmar is headquartered in Tahan. Also in Tahan are three institutions managed by the PCM: Agape Hospital, Tahan Theological College and the Child Development Center. (Photo courtesy of PCM)

LOUISVILLE — Already suffering under military rule since the February military coup, Myanmar is now experiencing an escalating COVID-19 outbreak, reaching nearly 3,000 new cases per day.

The Presbyterian Church of Myanmar (PCM) recently lost its former general secretary, Ring Lian Thang, and its associate general secretary, Za Nei Thang, to COVID-19. This is the country’s third wave of the virus.

With a population of about 54 million, Myanmar (formerly Burma) is a southeast Asian nation bordering India, Bangladesh, China, Laos and Thailand.

Hospitals are overwhelmed and there is a critical shortage of oxygen throughout the country. To make matters even more difficult, the military has imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew, preventing the sick from seeking any emergency treatment during those hours.

The military are ordered to shoot on sight. Government hospitals are also run by the military. As a result, many are concerned for their safety if they seek medical care for fear they will be questioned about participating in anti-junta protests. Those who can afford it are seeking care at private facilities.

Realizing how easily COVID-19 spreads, people are self-quarantining and putting signs on their door that they are infected. In some areas, as many as 50% of households are impacted, leaving no one available to go out for food and supplies.

Another factor exacerbating an already critical situation is a severe lack of medical oxygen. Some towns have completely run out and supplies are late arriving due to the ongoing fighting. There are also not enough coffins, graveyards or volunteers to bury the dead.

Myanmar’s ministry of health (MOHS) says the outbreak has likely spread from India mostly due to illegal border crossing for trade. The organization reported in June that three transmissible COVID-19 variants — Alpha, Delta and Kappa — have been discovered in Myanmar.

According to “Our World in Data,” about 3.5 million people in Myanmar have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and about 1.5 million people are fully vaccinated. That’s about 2.8% of the country’s population. For the sake of comparison, 331 million doses have been administered in the U.S., 157 million are fully vaccinated. That’s nearly half of the population.

Military regimes controlled Myanmar from 1962-2011. But in 2015, Aung San Suu Kyi, a 1995 Nobel Prize winner and former political prisoner, led her National League for Democracy (NLD) party to victory in Myanmar’s first openly contested election in 25 years.

During the February coup, the military arrested the 75-year-old leader, cut internet services, took control of the airwaves and announced army commander Min Aung Hlaing was running the country.

The military justified the takeover by alleging widespread voter fraud during the November 2020 general election, which gave Suu Kyi’s party an overwhelming victory and dashed the hopes of opposition-backed military leaders that they could take control democratically.

The Presbyterian Church of Myanmar is a global partner of Presbyterian World Mission.

Many quietly say that when the National League for Democracy was in power, there were sufficient medicines and medical devices, as well as volunteers to handle the pandemic.

Presbyterian World Mission learned Tuesday that 178 people died between July 1-6 in Kalay Township (where the PCM is headquartered). The PCM Agape hospital in Tahan/Kalay is completely overwhelmed and short of supplies, especially oxygen.

Currently, money cannot be transferred to the PCM. The banking system isn’t reliably functioning at the moment. PCM is still facing challenges accessing funds in its own accounts.

“We’ve been monitoring the situation in Myanmar as closely as we can through conversations with friends and colleagues of the Presbyterian Church of Myanmar as well as others in the community,” said the Rev. Mienda Uriarte, coordinator of World Mission’s Office of Asia and the Pacific. “Last Saturday, after a long and harrowing day of losing another 20 people to COVID from their small village, one of our contacts posted, ‘Please don’t stop praying for us, friends.’”

She offered this prayer:

Holy One,

In countless parts of our world today, the air is tense with waiting, uncertainty, insecurity. In this moment, we pray for siblings in Myanmar

from ravaged lands, destroyed by war, they lift their hands to You, pleading.

We pray for an end to the violence, for justice, and for peace to come and to last.

At the same time, an indescribable spirit of sorrow has fallen upon this place and COVID has taken countless dear ones

made in your divine image,

suddenly gone,

the loss numbs minds and overwhelms hearts.

Bless those who stand in solidarity.
Bless those who grieve.
Bless the dead,
So that their souls are bound up in the bond of life eternal.
And grant those still afflicted
With disease or trauma
A completed and lasting healing.


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