By Neva Rae Fox
Like the rest of the planet, Myanmar has been ravaged by COVID-19. However, Myanmar faces further unique issues as the country of 54 million is subject to strict curfew and traveling limitations following a February 2021 military coup.
The Rt. Rev. David Nyi Nyi Naing, Diocesan Bishop of Mandalay in the Anglican Church, Myanmar, recently shared his personal observations with The Living Church, relaying his direct witness of the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Myanmar because of the overriding issue of COVID-19.
Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, is located in Southeast Asia; neighbors are India, Bangladesh, China, Laos, and Thailand.
The Associated Press reported on July 30 that during the previous week, “the per capita death rate in Myanmar surpassed those of Indonesia and Malaysia to become the worst in Southeast Asia. The country’s crippled health care system has rapidly become overwhelmed with new patients sick with COVID-19. Supplies of medical oxygen are running low, and the government has restricted its private sale in many places, saying it is trying to prevent hoarding.”
“The country is very seriously affected by COVID-19,” Nyi Nyi Naing said in his firsthand accounts. “Many people died. People cannot get full medical care.”
He explained that in Myanmar, tradition calls for three generations to live together. While this helps strengthen families, it can create health issues. “We have a big family and stay together,” he said. “When one person is affected in the family, they cannot go into separate rooms. And there is not enough medical care.”
He cited the three serious issues facing the populace: food, housing, and medical care. And as is often the case, religious denominations and faith-based organizations are the front line of responding.
Bishop Nyi Nyi Naing serves as chair of Christian Churches in Mandalay. The four major religions in Myanmar – Buddhist, Hindu, Islam, Christian – have joined to tackle the crisis. “Every religion has activities to care for the people,” he said. “In Mandalay, 80 churches come together, the church leaders are getting together, we walk together, to help the COVID people.”
The bishop outlined the four main actions areas of the joint relief program:
First, he said, “We give them medical care. We ask doctors from the churches, some retired, some active, to help. We give medical care online.”
Second, he continued, “We share the oxygen. There is not enough oxygen. Not everyone can get oxygen. It is very very very difficult to get oxygen. We have formed a group of young people to bring oxygen from factories.”
Next is a “care and counseling program. We do the care and counseling online. We pray for them, and we provide counseling.”
Finally, the bishop said, “We supply and share the food. If the whole family is affected by the COVID, they cannot get food. We provide two meals a day. We thank God for food. Myanmar is an agriculture country, so we have the food. We need help to get the food to the people.”
Medical supplies are scarce. Bishop Nyi Nyi Naing noted that “in the whole country, we need the medicine. In Mandalay area, most of the medical shops are closed. They could not supply the medicine for the COVID.”
While COVID-19 and other major factors have had negative impacts on the country’s societal woes, the bishop remains hopeful.
“We have not only faced the COVID-19 problem, but also we have political problems. We are under a military coup. We have no rights under the military. This is another huge problem for the peoples. Most of the young generations are away from the family and they stay in the jungle. “
He sees people helping each other and he sees the face of God all around. “I do believe God is here. God is with us. So, I do believe God will take care of his people. We can get a good situation in the near future.”
Despite the current challenges, “I have a bright hope for a new future for my country. Our peoples are suffering, there are difficulties and challenges, but despite all these things we are coming together. We are becoming united. I do hope in near future we can get a beautiful future for a beautiful country and for the next generation.”
Bishop Nyi Nyi Naing concluded simply, “Please remember us in your prayers.”