A doctor treats refugees from Myanmar in a Thai border town. She helps with births and vaccinates against the coronavirus. Your patients report from a country full of violence.
World-news: Ms. Maung, you once fled to Thailand from the military regime in Myanmar . What goes through your head when you treat people in your clinic who fled after the most recent military coup last February?
Maung: In 1988, like thousands of other Myanmar people — mostly young people — I came to neighboring Thailand. There were many medical students and nurses there at the time. We got together and gradually built a health center on the Thai side of the border.
World-news: At first you sterilized your treatment instruments in a rice cooker.
Maung : I had a fixed plan: to help the Myanmar refugees. We distributed medication and cared for the injured. Helpers trained. Money and material were always scarce, but our clinic still exists today. We have become an important point of contact for migrants and refugees from my home country.
World-news: What do the refugees who are now arriving in Thailand need most?
Maung : There are also direct parallels to the military coup from back then. We are dealing with malnourished and undernourished children. With war victims, people who need prostheses, who have broken bones. Pregnant women who care, births that need preparation. Women and men come with eye diseases, rashes, diarrhea, toothache. But we also help patients with all kinds of communicable diseases. HIV infections are still a major problem . But our clinic also takes responsibility beyond illness.
World-news: To what extent?
Maung : We work with NGOs to place people with unclear residence status in training courses or jobs in Thailand. We take care of trauma that originates from the escape, from experiences of violence in Myanmar.
World-news: How worried are you about the corona situation?
Maung : The border area between Thailand and Myanmar is still a red zone. The infections have indeed decreased. But you know, every day, every night, people are trying to get from one side of the border to the other. The refugees then live in larger groups, in difficult hygienic conditions; most of them are not vaccinated. Many infections remain undetected. Because as an illegal refugee you don’t just go to a Thai doctor’s office. There is also the language barrier, most of those who come don’t understand Thai at first.
World-news: Do you vaccinate against the virus?
Maung : Now and then, yes. When we get vaccine. It is still rather sparse here. When we do, we give Sinovac or AstraZeneca vaccines . We work closely with Thai corona centers and refer infected people there if necessary.
World-news:Let’s talk about the situation in Myanmar, ten months after the coup. What stories do people bring to your clinic who have just fled? How are the people in your home country?
Maung : Many of my patients were acutely threatened in Myanmar because they were socially committed or because they stood up against the military. Again and again demonstrators are shot on the street. Others tell me they had to flee because they ran out of money at all. You have to imagine: the exchange rate of the currency falls and falls, the economy collapses, investments from abroad fall away.