Bangkok, March 19, 2017: Australian scientists, working with counterparts in Myanmar, are hoping to reduce Myanmar’s high death toll from snake bites in rural communities, especially among vulnerable populations facing inadequate emergency care.
The official toll from snake bites in Myanmar is 600 deaths a year out of some 13,000 cases among a rural population dependent on rice harvesting for a living. But rice paddy fields and rice stacks lure rats and mice, and in turn draw snakes, the most venomous being the Russell’s vipers and cobras.
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But the hopes for survival are often challenged by long distances from emergency care, with poor roads and infrastructure between snake bite victims and life-saving medical treatment.
Chen Au Peh, a renal specialist at the Royal Adelaide Hospital in South Australia, said speedy access to emergency medical treatment is crucial.
“So all these factors accumulate to a long delay between bite and administration of an anti-venom. So to help them, we have to help them produce more anti-venom, to get the anti-venom to where it’s required to help them keep the anti-venom in the refrigerator and to help the health professionals,” Peh said.
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Lifestock also affected
The project has also involved ensuring higher survival rates of horses used in the production of the anti-venom after being injected with snake venom. High mortality rates were evident among the horses due to anemia, nutritional problems and veterinary practices. Changes in practice included learning the skills developed by Myanmar horse handlers.
“In the last 10 months the average horse mortality is something like six or seven per month – compared to 50 per month – and this is very good news not only for horses but for human patients who may need the anti-venom. The more horses that survive the month, the more vials of anti-venom you can produce,” Peh said.
As a result, production of anti-venom has risen sharply to 100,000 vials from 60,000 vials.
The team’s work, part of a $1.77 million effort begun in 2014 with support from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and working with Myanmar’s Ministries of Industry and Health, is focused on the northern city of Mandalay, a region that faces an estimated 700 to 800 snake bite victims each year.
The Australian team, which includes Afzal Mahmood, a senior lecturer in public health at the University of Adelaide and Julian White, a world renowned toxicologist from the Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Adelaide, is working with specialists in Myanmar and local partners on guidelines, protocols and standard operating procedures for the health sector.
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Real numbers higher
Mahmood said a recent survey indicated the rate of snake bites was considerably higher than official figures.
“It is not a new phenomenon, it happens because many people do not reach the health system where recording takes place. Some people get treated by the traditional healers; some may die without actually reaching the health system and some may suffer and get healed,” Mahmood told VOA.
But he said the program has succeeded in boosting the skills among the local medical and non-medical community.
“We have produced revised guidelines for the doctors [and] some diagnostic tests, and the training of some 200 health care providers,” he said.
The work has reached about 150 villages with local community meetings targeting around 7,000 people to promote awareness of snake bite treatments.
The goal, the scientists said, is to shorten the time to treatment by providing solar powered refrigerators near to local communities with supplies of anti-venom.
Mahmood says the challenges go beyond the initial treatment.
“Psychological issues post-bite [affect] not only the person but the family themselves suffer. It’s a very life-changing experience,” he said.
Victims of snake bites are among Myanmar’s poorest. They often face long periods of hospitalization, leaving families facing high medical bills, often equivalent to several months of real earnings as they struggle to meet hospital and transport expenses, even those receiving subsidies.
To ensure the project is sustainable, its goal is to provide a model that can be applied elsewhere in Myanmar. (VOA)
The search operation along with some shooting incidents by government soldiers caused more than 500 local residents to take sanctuary on the grounds of Aung Mingalar Monastery, while more than 2,000 sought safety inside the Shwe Phaung Tin Monastery compound
Thousands of fearful villagers have fled communities in Myanmar’s war-ravaged Rakhine state, where a Myanmar military unit has been conducting door-to-door searches for rebel ethnic soldiers, residents of the affected villages said Wednesday.
The searches for Arakan Army (AA) troops took place all day in Myo Chaung and Pan Myaung villages on the border between Mrauk-U and Minbya townships in the northern part of the state where hostilities between the two militaries have escalate since late last year, they said.
“Yesterday was really bad,” said Kyaw Myint, a resident of Pan Myaung village. “They [government soldiers] started from Myo Chaung village with their search [for AA fighters] and reached the edge of Pan Myaung village. The government soldiers changed to civilian clothing and entered the village firing their guns. All the villagers ran for their lives.”
The search operation along with some shooting incidents by government soldiers caused more than 500 local residents to take sanctuary on the grounds of Aung Mingalar Monastery, while more than 2,000 sought safety inside the Shwe Phaung Tin Monastery compound, they said.
“An IDP [internally displaced persons] camp has been opened in Shwe Phaung Tin monastery compound, Kyaw Myint said. “It’s already harboring a large number of people.”
When Myanmar soldiers entered villagers’ homes, they beat some, detained others, and stripped more then 130 of them of their shirts and made them stay outside in the burning sun, said Abbot Pyinnyar Wontha of Shwe Phaung Tin monastery. He said he does not know how long the monastery can host the IDPs.
“Then they asked where the AA soldiers were located,” he said. “Now the villagers are scared of the soldiers and have fled their homes.”
During the search, Myanmar soldiers took away four villagers — Khin Maung, 30, and Kyaw Aye Maung, 25 from Myo Chaung village and Soe Win Naing, 22, and Maung Myint Hlaing, age estimated to be about 30, from Ywa Thit ward — for supposedly having connections to the AA, residents and family members said.
“They took two villagers from Myo Chaung village and two from Ywa Thit ward,” Kyaw Myint said. “We haven’t heard anything from them since.”
Kyaw Kyaw Hla from Aung Mingalar Monastery said the government troops fired indiscriminately at the villagers.
“The soldiers entered the villages and did whatever they wanted,” he said. They fired their guns at random and apprehended the villagers for questioning. They caused so much panic.”
The Myanmar Army views Rakhine villagers as AA sympathizers, Kyaw Kyaw Hla said.
“So, they brutally questioned the villagers if they found them in the village,” he said. “They got angrier if they were not in the village. They said they would torch the houses if nobody was found in the village.”
The AA, a Buddhist Rakhine military fighting for autonomy in the state, was branded a terrorist organization by the Myanmar government after it carried out deadly attacks on police outposts in the state early this year, leaving 13 dead. A similar assault on another police outpost in early March killed nine officers and wounded two others.
RFA’s Myanmar Service was unable to reach Colonel Win Zaw Oo, commander of the Western Regional Military Command to confirm the arrests.
RFA was also unable to contact AA spokesman Khine Thukha to confirm if AA members were hiding in villages on the border between Minbya and Mrauk-U townships.
Meanwhile, the influx of residents of Pan Myaung and Myo Chaung villages who have left their homes has stretched the two monasteries housing them to their limits.
Abbot Pyinnyar Wontha said he does not know how long the Shwe Phaung Tin monastery can host the IDPs.
“We requested that they go back home in one or two days, but their numbers have swelled to over 2,000 since yesterday,” he said.
Mrauk-U villagers still missing
One month has passed since the families of six people in Mrauk-U township were detained by the Myanmar military during clashes with the AA, and haven’t been heard from since.
Maung Win Sein, 35; Aye Thein, 33; Maung Shwe Soe, 29, from Thar-Zi village; Sein Thar Kyaw, 46, from Taung Oo village; and Hla Htun Chae, 61, from Yan-Aung-Myae village — disappeared on Feb. 19 during an intense battle in the township’s Yan Chaung region.
Myo Min Zaw, 19, from Kya-Nat-Kan village in Kyauktaw township, north of Mrauk-U, also went missing the same day. Tun Nu, the head of the township’s Taung Min Kular village also went missing during the skirmishes.
Their family members, who insist that the men have no ties to the AA, said they filed missing person reports at a local police stations but have heard nothing since.
RFA was unable to reach the police stations in Mrauk-U and Kyauktaw townships.
Oo Myint Htay, wife of Maung Win Sein, said a stranger with a mixed Myanmar-Rakhine accent answered her husband’s cell phone when she called his number.
“He told me not to call him if it’s nothing urgent,” she said. “With all the fighting going on, I was very worried because it was not my husband answering the phone and a stranger was answering it. I called the second time but no one answered. Since then, the phone has been turned off so it can’t receive calls anymore.”
Dar Sein, wife of Hla Htun Chae from Yan Aung Pyin village, said her husband was arrested by the Myanmar military’s 22nd Division.
When she went to the army compound to inquire about her husband after he didn’t come home from cattle herding, she found him being tied up, she said.
“They tied my husband up,” she said. “When I got there, my husband Hla Htun Chae asked me to redo his sarong.”
After a while, he was summoned by the captain, and soldiers asked Dar Sein to go home.
“I said I’d go home with my husband because he has hypertension and is not in good health,” she said.
“The soldiers told me not to worry and asked me to leave,” she said. “I left and haven’t heard from my husband since then.”
‘They had done it’
Hla Htun Chae is the only one of the missing men confirmed to be detained by the military, while the fate of the remaining villagers remains unknown.
Some believe the missing men may be among three charred bodies discovered in a valley east of Yan Aung Pyin village on Feb. 21.
“I went there to investigate with the village head and elders of Kyar Nat Kan, but we saw only the piles of ashes,” said Sein Hla Maung, head of Yan Aung Pyin village. “It was where military troops had been stationed, so we concluded that they had done it.”
RFA could not independently confirm that the charred bodies found near Yan Aung Pyin village were the work of the government troops.
A spokesman for Myanmar military’s information committee told RFA on Feb. 25 that soldiers apprehended the local residents only as part of investigations and that they have not forcibly detailed any civilians. The AA also denied detaining them.
Tun Thar Sein, a lawmaker who represents Mrauk-U township in the Rakhine state parliament, said state officials should inform the families about their missing relatives.
“The state government is responsible for protecting its local citizens,” he said. “The government needs to give explanation to the family members of those who have been missing for a month.”
AA joins talks
The AA is one of a handful of ethnic armies fighting the government military in some of Myanmar’s ethnic minority areas.
The Myanmar government’s peace commission has invited eight organizations that have not signed a nationwide cease-fire — including the AA and its political wing, the United League of Arakan — to attend collective peace discussions for the first time on Thursday.
Some delegates from the various groups and a Chinese representative arrived in Myanmar’s capital Naypyidaw on Wednesday.