Refugee camps short of food, medicine in Myanmar’s Kayah state

Villagers displaced by fighting in Myanmar’s war-torn Kayah state are running short of badly needed food and medicine, with children and the elderly hardest hit in the camps set up to shelter them, sources in the region say.

Children are now suffering from dengue fever and diarrhea in the eastern part of Kayah’s Loikaw township, where around 4,000 refugees now live in IDP camps, a relief worker at one camp told RFA on Friday.

“The main problem we are facing here now is the shortage of medicine,” the worker named Aung Naing said. “In another nearby camp, there is the flu. That is very common. And then there are the gastroenteritis cases,” he added.

“We are now seeing slight changes in the symptoms, with kids showing traces of blood in their vomit. There’s a lot of that happening,” Aung Naing said.

Elderly refugees also lack medicine for high blood pressure, diabetes and heart problems, and painkillers, saline water and medicines for fevers are now urgently needed in the camps, he said.

Shipments of medicine are now restricted in Kayah state, where People’s Defense Forces are clashing with forces of the military junta that overthrew civilian rule in Myanmar in a Feb. 1, 2021 coup, a spokesman for the Karenni Human Rights Group said.

The prices of medicine have also risen in local markets because of shortages, the spokesman named Banya said.

“We have absolutely no ability to produce medicine here, and we have to buy mainly from outside. The prices here have more than doubled, and there is only a trickle of international aid,” he said.

The UN refugee agency and World Food Program provide assistance to the camps mainly for food, with no help given for medical needs, he said.

“Many people in the camps have been living here for months or even years, and they are becoming weak,” Banya said. “There is no proper health care for pregnant women and young mothers, and refugees are facing even more health challenges because they have no access to vaccines.”

Refugees in 'a very bad situation'

A spokesman for the Progressive Karenni People’s Force, which also helps war refugees, said that at least six people have died in the camps where the group works due to shortages of medicine and food.

“Medicines are badly needed, and there has recently been a shortage of rice and dried rations. Some of the refugees are in a very bad situation,” the spokesman said, speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons.

“We have seen people die in some IDP camps because they didn’t have enough medicine. And because transportation has been restricted on the roads, it is also hard now to move from place to place or provide comprehensive health care,” he said.

Many in the camps now survive only by eating edible leaves and roots found in surrounding forests, the spokesman added.

In an Aug. 3 statement, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said it is facing difficulties in providing food and medicine to war victims in Myanmar because of restrictions imposed by the country’s military.

Calls seeking comment from Myanmar military spokesman Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun and the junta spokesman for Kayah state rang unanswered on Friday.

Translated by Khin Maung Nyane for RFA Burmese. Written in English by Richard Finney.