Myanmar patients launch campaign to fight COVID-19 stigma

Myanmar patients launch campaign to fight COVID-19 stigma
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Five COVID-19 patients who launched an awareness campaign to help address the stigmatization of people affected by the virus are seen at their isolation room at a hospital in Yangon, Myanmar. (Photo courtesy: Sithu Wu)
Myanmar patients launch campaign to fight COVID-19 stigma
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Five COVID-19 patients who launched an awareness campaign to help address the stigmatization of people affected by the virus are seen at their isolation room at a hospital in Yangon, Myanmar. (Photo courtesy: Sithu Wu)
Myanmar patients launch campaign to fight COVID-19 stigma
3 / 4
Five COVID-19 patients who launched an awareness campaign to help address the stigmatization of people affected by the virus are seen at their isolation room at a hospital in Yangon, Myanmar. (Photo courtesy: Sithu Wu)
Myanmar patients launch campaign to fight COVID-19 stigma
4 / 4
Five COVID-19 patients who launched an awareness campaign to help address the stigmatization of people affected by the virus are seen at their isolation room at a hospital in Yangon, Myanmar. (Photo courtesy: Sithu Wu)
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Updated 09 May 2020

Myanmar patients launch campaign to fight COVID-19 stigma

Myanmar patients launch campaign to fight COVID-19 stigma
  • This negative public perception is what Wu and his quarantine roommates want to change with their funny videos

YANGON: A comedy video featuring men in masks dancing with medical equipment in a hospital corridor has gone viral in Myanmar, to the delight of its creators who are fighting a new social stigma toward people and places associated with the coronavirus outbreak.  

The 26-second clip was posted on Facebook on April 26 by five COVID-19 patients who have been quarantined since mid-April at a hospital in South Okkalap Township in Yangon, Myanmar's commercial capital.

One of the video’s creators is photographer Sithu Wu, the founder of Yangon-based Wu Production.

“We actually have nothing to do in the hospital. So we got an idea to create video clips and songs,” he told Arab News.

They initially just wanted to calm their families and friends, he said, and show them that they were doing well. But they later realized that the films could help them deliver an important message to a wider audience, as COVID-19 patients and medical personnel have been experiencing increasing hostility and social ostracism.

“We would like to deliver the message that people should not be so scared of the virus and not ostracize patients, their family members as well as doctors and nurses.”

Naing Min Htut, a doctor who is volunteering at a Yangon clinic, said he had not gone home for nearly two months.

“Some neighbors would not be comfortable if I return home from the clinic. That’s why I just stay in the clinic,” he told Arab News. “We are also experiencing fear and anxiety due to our work.”

Than Naing Soe, a spokesman for the Ministry of Health, confirmed that health workers responding to the coronavirus pandemic have been targeted.

“People with poor health knowledge overreact to the situation, and we are afraid it will obstruct medical workers in performing their duty,” he told Arab News, giving several examples in which nurses had lost their accommodation because landlords were scared of their presence.

A similar fate has met migrant workers who returned to Myanmar from neighboring countries after losing their jobs amid pandemic shutdowns in Thailand and China. More than 150,000 of them have arrived home since March and many have undergone a 21-day quarantine at government facilities.

Neighbors opposed their return as soon as they were released.

Ei Ei Phyone, a lawmaker from the ruling National League for Democracy, said there was resistance to the return of migrant workers to their hometowns and also to the establishment of quarantine centers for them.

“Some people consider the returnees as virus carriers, and don't welcome them,” Phyone told Arab News.

More than 300 people in her constituency, in the Maubin township of Ayeyawaddy region, demonstrated against the temporary conversion of a public school into an isolation facility.

“Here we are dealing with two kinds of people: Those who don’t care about the disease at all, and those who overreact to the disease,” she said.

This negative public perception is what Wu and his quarantine roommates want to change with their funny videos.

“If even one person changes their attitude toward patients, doctors and other victims of COVID-19, we will be happy,” Wu said.