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Smallpox outbreak rips through displaced persons’ camp

Smallpox, which was thought to have been eradicated in 1977, is spreading quickly across the population of an internally displaced persons (IDP) camp in Myanmar’s Kayah state.

Aid workers say more than 20 children have caught the disease, which has existed for 3,000 years and caused millions of deaths according to the World Health Organization.

Karenni Human Rights Group (KNHRG) spokesman Ko Ba Nyar, said the children have been sick and feverish since the end of last month.

“It happened in the west side [of Demoso Township],” he said “It is the rainy season and drinking water is difficult to access, especially clean water. The children might possibly have been infected because they are living together.”

The children who have been infected with smallpox are not in a serious condition, Ko Ba Nyar told RFA. He said the camp is being monitored so the disease will not spread.

A health care worker at the camp, who did not wish to be named, said the infection broke out because there is not enough clean water and the children don’t practice good personal hygiene.

“It’s cramped living here and the parents of the children don’t have much health awareness,” the health worker said. “It starts with people getting sick and vomiting, then the rash comes out. It can be transmitted to another person through these blisters. Right now, we are treating the infected children with medicine in the camp.”

The rash appeared on the faces, abdomens and backs of the infected children, according to people who are assisting with the medical treatment.

More than 1,400 displaced people from 11 villages in Demoso township are sheltering in the IDP camp.

If the displaced people have any health issues, they cannot easily go to government hospitals due to the ongoing conflict between the junta and People’s Defense Forces. Health facilities in the IDP camp are not good enough to cope with a smallpox outbreak.

Demoso township was the first place to take up arms against the junta forces following the coup on February 1, 2021.

Since then more than half of Kayah State’s population, some 200,000 people, have fled their homes due to the fighting and crackdowns by the military junta.