People in Need responds quickly to COVID-19 in Myanmar’s Rakhine StatePublished: Jun 5, 2020 Reading time: 4 minutes
In May, when officials in Myanmar announced the first cases of COVID-19 in the country’s Rakhine State, People in Need (PIN) quickly stepped up its emergency response. Together with the Myanmar Humanitarian Fund, we began providing essential services to help internally displaced persons (IDPs) combat the pandemic in camps and host communities in Minbya and Mrauk U townships.
Hygiene kits for over 3,000 people
In recent weeks, PIN, together with our local partner organisation, the Community Centre, has distributed hygiene kits with items such as soap, sanitary pads, and personal hygiene materials to 787 households in nine villages, reaching a total of 3,195 people in Minbya Township. Posters and pamphlets that highlight the importance of good handwashing practices were also disseminated.
U Khin Maung Swe, a member of Minbya’s COVID-19 Response Committee, says: “During the pandemic, we have had good collaboration with the administrative and health departments. Thanks to the support of PIN and its local partner organisation, the Community Centre, our committee is undertaking awareness-raising activities and helping with the distribution of hygiene kits to villages and IDP sites.”
‘We cannot afford to buy masks’
The distribution of hygiene kits is being carried out with a special focus on safety. U Thein Maung, Director of the Community Centre, notes: “Whenever we go to the field, we always wear personal protection equipment (PPE) like masks and gloves, and we use hand sanitiser during distributions. We then discard the used PPE safely into bins. During distribution of the hygiene kits, we make sure to keep a two-metre distance between ourselves and the recipients.”
Maung adds that “the villagers are really happy to get these hygiene kits, because some households are even more vulnerable during the COVID-19 pandemic than they were before. They cannot go outside to earn money and most of them lack knowledge on COVID-19 prevention. That’s why we also provide awareness sessions on proper handwashing practices, social distancing, and the use of masks to protect against COVID-19.”
Ko Aung Kyaw Win, a beneficiary from A Twin Done Chaung Village, in Minbya Township, agrees. “The distributions are really useful, as are the awareness sessions on handwashing practices and how to wear a mask. We cannot afford to buy masks at the market. However, we protect ourselves by wearing our homemade masks when we have a meeting in the village.”
In addition to PIN’s participation, the Minbya Township Health Department is offering to conduct awareness sessions during future distributions. Close collaboration with health officials and other government authorities is essential during any crisis, and this pandemic is no exception.
Water and information are key to fighting COVID-19
As part of our COVID-19 response, PIN, with support from the Myanmar Humanitarian Fund managed by United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, has also distributed handheld loudspeakers to help spread awareness messages throughout villages and camps. Due to unreliable internet in Rakhine State, most people in the conflict-affected region do not have access to accurate information about COVID-19. Rather, they rely on the awareness messages they receive through loudspeakers used by the village and ward administrative departments. Billboards and posters are also being used by international non-government organisations and local civil society groups to spread COVID-19-related information.
In addition, PIN is distributing alcohol-based hand sanitisers and building handwashing stations in each site for IDPs in the Mrauk U Township. PIN has also distributed 282,000 litres of potable water to nine IDP sites in the township. As a result, 1,385 households have access to clean water, which is important for preventing the spread of COVID-19. Providing clean water in this area is essential, especially during the dry season, when potable water is hard to come by.
In addition to programmes addressing water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH), PIN, together with our local partners, provides multi-sectoral humanitarian assistance in protection, shelter, and food security to people in Rakhine State affected by conflict. We are also distributing non-food items in this region.
“Local responders play a critical role in providing timely and contextually relevant assistance in complex crises,” says Andrius Kudaba, PIN’s Area Manager for Myanmar. “In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, coordination and cooperation with local actors has proven once again to be an invaluable addition to our work addressing pre-existing and emerging needs.”