Extreme concern after deadly attack on health care workers in Myanmar

Displaced Rohingya living in Ohn Taw Gyi (South) camp, Rakhine/ Myanmar. Photos: LWF/ I. Htun

Call for “immediate ceasefire” in Rakhine state

(LWI) - The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) together with 15 aid organizations has expressed “shock and sadness” upon receiving the news of a fatal shooting incident involving a vehicle of the World Health Organization (WHO) carrying COVID-19 test samples in Rakhine State, Myanmar.

The aid organizations, all of whom work in Myanmar, call for an immediate ceasefire and unhindered humanitarian access to all populations and camps in Rakhine state. They are also urging all actors to “uphold the rights of conflict-affected populations to safety and protection”, and “improved and equal access to health care and other crucial services in Rakhine State and elsewhere in the country”.

“We are deeply saddened by this tragedy,” says LWF Global Humanitarian Coordinator Allan Calma. “We join both colleagues in-country as well as the international community in calling for a ceasefire and to ensure the protection of humanitarian actors at the frontline.”

Fighting blocks humanitarian aid

The fatal shooting happened near a military checkpoint in Minbya Township on 20 April 2020. One UN staff was killed and an official from the Myanmar ministry for Health and Sports was injured. The incident happened  in the context of an ongoing conflict between the government and the Arakan Army in Rakhine state. Apart from claiming the lives of civilians, the fighting is also severely hampering humanitarian access to communities in need during the global COVID-19 pandemic.  

“Across the globe and in Myanmar, millions of frontline health workers, humanitarian staff and other key workers are trying to contain the spread of the COVID 19 virus. We must support each and every one of these courageous people, and keep them safe from harm,” the NGO statement says, emphasizing the call for a ceasefire which was issued by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres in March.

Concern for IDP populations

The incident also raises concern about the overall situation of the health care system in Myanmar, and especially conflict-stricken Rakhine state. As of April 21st, Myanmar has reported 119 confirmed cases of COVID 19 with 5 associated deaths. Aid organizations suspect the actual number to be much higher. Rakhine State has the most severe poverty and malnutrition rates among children in Myanmar, and is home to large numbers of vulnerable populations.

Around 200,000 internally displaced people, Rohingya and ethnic Rakhine population, live in camps or other temporary shelters. Access to health care and other life-saving services for them is very limited. “The combination of these factors makes the prevention of a widespread COVID 19 outbreak in Rakhine State all the more pressing,” the statement says. LWF has been working to inform the affected populations in Rakhine, Chin and Kayin states, and plans to distribute soap and protective gear.