By WAI MOE
Sources in Rangoon have confirmed that at least five people have died in an outbreak of diarrhea that hit Burma’s largest city just before the start of the Burmese New Year’s festival in mid-April.
Bae U Ma, a 12-year-old girl from a poor family living in Ward 44 of North Dagon Myothit Township, died on April 20 after contracting the disease earlier in the month, according to a neighbor. Neighbors also confirmed the death of an elderly woman in Ward 7 of the same township. Doctors said three other people had died in Thaketa Township’s Ward 4, where the outbreak was said to be under control.
“I successfully treated more than a dozen diarrhea patients in the past three weeks,” said a physician at a private clinic in Thaketa Township. “But the cases were particularly severe, requiring at least three days of treatment.”
There were also reports that three other patients had died in North Okkalapa Township, although these could not be independently confirmed. Local residents of the township said that there were hundreds of cases of diarrhea in North Okkalapa alone.
Other townships, including South and North Dagon Myothit, Thaketa, Dawbon and Thanlyin, have also reported significant numbers of people suffering from the disease.
No official announcement of the outbreak has been issued, although the Ministry of Health has released repeated warnings in the Burmese-language press instructing people to take precautions against the disease.
Authorities have also ordered the closure of roadside food stalls in areas affected by the outbreak, according to local residents.
Meanwhile, an official from the United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Rangoon told The Irrawaddy on Friday that there has also been a dramatic rise in the number of cases of diarrhea in the Irrawaddy delta over the past week.
“UNICEF and other medical agencies have learned of an estimated 100 diarrhea cases in 20 villages in Bogalay Township this week,” the UNICEF official said, adding that the number of cases has since decreased.
The official also said that UNICEF was aware of the outbreak in Rangoon and was working with government agencies to address the problem.
“We have been cooperating with government health officials in responding to the situation. We are providing drugs and equipment,” said the UNICEF official, who added that she was not authorized to make any further comment.
Despite growing concerns, the authorities have moved to prevent any news related to the outbreak from reaching the public.
“We cannot answer any questions because our senior officers have told us not to speak to the media about this issue,” a government health official from North Okkalapa Township said during a telephone conversation.
A Rangoon-based journalist who has been following news of the outbreak said that if the government did not provide detailed information soon, the situation could get “worse and worse, and then get out of control.”