Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Forced to flee their homes with little more than the clothes on their backs and seek shelter in Burma’s dense jungles, Karen villagers trying to escape Burmese government military offensives are being exposed to malaria carrying mosquitoes at an alarming rate.
According to the Thai-based Committee for Internally Displaced Karen People (CIDKP), over 4,500 war refugees hiding in the forests east of Taungoo District in Pegu Division are in desperate need of medicine to combat malaria.
The refugees account for some of the estimated 7,500 persons recently forced to leave their homes in Htantapin and Thantaung Townships in Taungoo District.
"We found out that seven out of ten refugees were malaria infected when we conducted medical check-ups. This means 70 percent of them are infected with malaria. Some also died of this disease,” CIDKP Information Department In-charge Saw Eh Wah Thu told Mizzima of one recent inspection.
"Thantaung is a mosquito infested area. We cannot eradicate them. We cannot even sleep because of them. The mosquitoes bite us the whole night, from dusk to dawn. So the malaria is endemic in this mosquito infested area," he added.
CIDKP, the Backpack Health Workers Team (BPHWT) and Karen National Union (KNU) are providing medical treatment to malaria patients. However, they warn that new cases continue to come to their attention, as there is little hope of controlling the spread of the disease.
"They have no stable dwelling place in their hiding places and no mosquito nets and blankets, as they have to constantly move, fleeing the junta's military operations," BPHWT Director U Man Man explained to Mizzima.
The refugees, also referred to as internally displaced persons (IDPs), are forced to live in makeshift bamboo huts deep in the forest, increasing the likelihood that mosquitoes will bite them during the present wet season, which provides ample breeding grounds for the insect.
Infantry Battalions (IB) 102, 250, 261 and Light Infantry Battalions (LIB) 336, 421, 424, 424, 425, 426 and 427 under the command of Military Operation Command No. 7 and led by Brigadier General Myo Aye are operating in Taungoo District. The forces reputedly set hundreds of plantations owned and operated by local Karen people on fire, CIDKP told Mizzima.
"Most of these war refugees are fleeing from villages which were set on fire by the junta’s forces. Some of the villages were left unburned, but they dare not go back to their homes as junta forces have planted many landmines there. Many people are being killed by enemy gunfire and landmines when trying to go back to their homes," Saw Eh Wah furthered.
The Thai-Burma border-based BPHWT counts more than 50,000 war refugees spread across four districts – Taungoo, Nyaunglaybin, Phapon and Thaton – with the number of malaria and dengue cases affecting the population in question still being compiled.
A total of 701 malaria cases, with no fatalities, have been reported since January of this year in all of Taungoo, according to the District Health Department. However, government figures do not account for IDP communities.