First, some paracetamol for the severely malnourished girl's fever
and a wet towel for her forehead. Then some rehydration salts for
her diarrhea. There was nothing else left.
The death of Asoma in a dusty, stifling hot camp a two-hour boat
ride from Sittwe, capital of Rakhine State in west Myanmar, is part
of a growing health crisis for stateless Muslim Rohingya that has
been exacerbated by restrictions on international aid.
"I think my child would have made it if someone was here to help,"
Asoma's mother, Gorima, told Reuters, as she cradled the girl's
shrouded, almost weightless body in her arms.
In February, Myanmar's government expelled the main aid group
providing health to more than half a million Rohingya in Rakhine
State — Medecins Sans Frontieres-Holland (MSF-H) — after the group
said it had treated people believed to have been victims of violence
in southern Maungdaw township, near the Bangladesh border, in
The United Nations says at least 40 Rohingya were killed there by
Buddhist Rakhine villagers. The government denies any killings
Attacks on March 26 and 27 on NGO and U.N. offices by a Rakhine mob
angered by rumors a foreign staffer for another group, Malteser
International, had desecrated a Buddhist flag led to the withdrawal
of aid groups providing healthcare and other essential help to
another 140,000 Rohingya living in camps after being displaced by
Buddhist-Muslim violence since 2012.
The government had pledged to allow most NGOs to return to full
operation after the end of Buddhist New Year celebrations this
But so far only food distribution by the World Food Programme has
returned to normal, and Rakhine community leaders in the state
government's Emergency Coordination Centre have imposed conditions
on others wanting to go back.
NGOs will only be allowed to operate if they show "complete
transparency" in disclosing their travel plans and projects and are
not seen to favor Rohingya, said Than Tun, a Rakhine elder who is
part of the center. Neither MSF-H nor Malteser are being allowed
back in, he said.
With foreign aid largely absent, every day of delay is measured in
No one is there to count them accurately, but the average of 10
daily emergency medical referrals before aid groups left are no
longer happening, said Liviu Vedrasco, a coordinator with the World
Extrapolating from that how many people could be saved is
impossible, Vedrasco said. "It was not ideal before March 27. NGOs
were not providing five-star medical care. But they were filling a
Government medical teams have been making limited visits to Rohingya
areas, but foreign aid groups say they are inadequate. Most of the
slack has fallen to under-qualified Rohingya using whatever is at
In Kyein Ni Pyin, nearly 4,600 Rohingya live under police guard and
their movements are restricted. They are classified by the
government as illegal Bengali immigrants. One foreign aid worker
described the area to Reuters as "a concentration camp".
Elia is one of eight people given seven days' training to assist in
an MSF-H clinic, which now sits empty. The only medicines he has are
those he used on little Asoma and some iodine. Government doctors
have made three visits of about two to three hours each, he said.
Eight people, including six infants, have died since the aid group
left, he said. The night before a recent Reuters visit, one woman
lost her baby during delivery.
[to top of second column]
"THEY REFUSE TREATMENT"
Win Myaing, a spokesman for the Rakhine State government, dismissed
the notion that there is a health crisis in the camps.
"There is a group of people in one of these camps that shows the
same sick children to anyone who visits. Even when the government
arranges for treatment they refuse it," he said.
The United States, Britain and other countries have called on the
government to allow aid groups to return to Rakhine State, to little
effect so far.
Appeals by the international community for Myanmar to do more to end
persecution of the Rohingya have similarly made little impression on
a government that sees them as illegal immigrants and denies them
U.S. President Barack Obama, speaking during a visit to Malaysia,
said on Sunday that Myanmar would not succeed if its minority Muslim
population was oppressed.
He may visit Myanmar towards the end of this year, when it is due to
host a regional summit, and he could come under pressure from lobby
groups to restore sanctions that have been softened since the end of
military rule in 2011.
Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who led the fight for democracy
while the military ran the country and now sits in parliament, has
faced rare criticism abroad for her failure to defend the Rohingya.
Visits by Reuters to the remote Kyein Ni Pyin camp, as well as
several camps near Sittwe, reveal a widespread struggle with
illness. In low-slung huts, dozens of mothers showed their emaciated
children. There is no data to compare malnutrition rates to when
NGOs were forced to leave.
Along the bustling main street of the Thae Chaung camp outside
Sittwe town, thatched bamboo stalls that sell a limited selection of
drugs have become makeshift clinics.
Mohammad Elyas, a 30-year-old who sold medicine in Sittwe's market
before he was driven out by marauding mobs in 2012, displays his
laminated qualifications near the front, including a degree in
geology and a certificate in traditional medicine.
Medicine is sporadically supplied by sympathetic Rakhine Buddhists
in Sittwe, but they run the risk of retribution from their own
community for doing so.
At least 20 to 30 people come each day seeking treatment, Elyas
said. "Week by week it's getting worse."
"I'm just trying to save as many lives as possible. Even though I
don't have the proper qualifications, if I don't do this work,
people will die," he said.
(Additional reporting by Min Zayar Oo and Aye Win Myint;
[© 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2014 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.