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Myanmar Still Needs to Raise Powerful Awareness on COVID-19

Interview with Dr Than Sein, Chairman at Public Health Foundation 

1. Please introduce yourself and the Public Health Foundation to our readers. Explain the role of PHF in fighting COVID-19. 

The Public Health Foundation has partnered with the Ministry of Health and Sports. The main work area is the reduction of tobacco use. At the end of 2019 and at the beginning of 2020, we made some interviews with journals but COVID-19 was not here at that time. We did it to talk about what we should do if it happened. When COVID-19 started in Myanmar in March, we cooperated with the Ministry of Health and Sports on how to educate the public and when we did, it was successful. It is estimated that about 15 million people can be educated. 

In the beginning, people did not know what the disease was, so they were afraid and we could control it. The rate of the disease dropped significantly. Then, outbreaks began to rise in Rakhine State in August, which is 20 times more than the first time. The daily rate has not decreased and about 30 people die every day. That’s why we started to educate people for the second time. So far, the outbreak of COVID-19 has not dropped. It is not happening everywhere- only in about four cities. The rate does not drop since people do not care about wearing masks. 

2.  The rate of COVID-19 transmission has decreased after the election. Is it because the tests are reduced? Why is that?

 What I see is that it is because the number of tests has been decreased. The percentage of positive patients is reduced, but overall, it is no less than 7 or 8% which has already been a month. About 8% of those tested before the election was diagnosed with the disease. It is just around that rate. The more you test, the more you will find. Since the virus is highly contagious, the more contacts you have, the more likely you are to become infected. The lower the number of patients, the lower the rate will be. In the experience of European and Southeast Asian countries, the transmission can only be controlled if the rate reaches under 5% of all tests. 

3. The Ministry of Health and Sports has announced that everyone must stay at home apart from going out for mandatory cases, in order to prevent the spread of the disease. There were a lot of people who celebrated and made crowds after the election day. How would you like to comment on that?

Since the elections are held every 5 years, they do that to support the party of their choice. Instead of being afraid of getting infected, they are happy that the party they support wins. They do so although they are afraid of the disease. So, it is very possible for them to be transmitted. The more people there are, the more contagious the disease is. According to the Ministry of Health and Sports, they said it was only 30 people at first. Then it increased to 50 as the election approached. They should be restricted from travelling here and there if it is very likely to be transmitted. Quarantine centres will not be enough although the Ministry of Health and Sports has provided a lot of them. This is happening in cities and also in Pathein and Mandalay in Ayeyarwaddy division. The rate has not increased in Mawlamyine, however, it is never wrong to be careful. 

Before, there were only 5 to 10 contacts of the infected patient but now, the rate has increased due to the celebrations after the election. There will not be enough quarantine centres if there are about 30 contacts from one patient. There are now both health and administrative issues in Mandalay. Fortunately, since the schools are not open yet, we can use them as quarantine centres. The government intends to do as much as they can. There will be changes if we use schools or homes for the quarantine in order to control the transmission as much as possible. The number of days to stay at quarantine centres has been reduced. We can say that the rate of infection can gradually decrease.