Thursday, September 18, 2014

Rakhine residents ready to protest the return of MSF

Residents of Rakhine State’s capital, Sittwe, will protest against any attempt by Medicins Sans Frontieres-Holland (MSF) to return to the state, they said, following an announcement by the government that it had signed an agreement with the non-governmental organisation allowing it to resume its medical programmes in Rakhine.

“Although the government is allowing MSF to resume operations, local people will not accept them,” said Soe Naing from Sittwe Township. He added that city residents had released a statement on August 25 saying they “absolutely rejected” any attempt by MSF to resume its work in the state.

MSF will resume operations in Rakhine State at the invitation of a Rakhine State Government committee in cooperation with the Ministry of Health, an announcement said. The announcement said the Rakhine government committee “appreciated” MSF’s plans to return to the state.

“If the Rakhine State government committee signs a contract with MSF, authorities should seek the people’s desire. If the government wants to be in harmony with the public, they need to discuss this with them,” Soe Naing said.

The government can issue an invitation and the people cannot ban it, but they can protest, he added.
The health department under the Ministry of Health signed an agreement on September 18 with MSF-Holland in Nay Pyi Taw allowing it to resume its healthcare services in Rakhine.

“We are now planning to recommence our operation in Rakhine State. We had to sign the contracts for all projects across the country. In other states and regions, our operation is running regularly since the beginning of our programme. There have many negotiations … concerning our programme in Rakhine State. But, we don’t know exactly when our programme will resume. To restart our project, we already signed an agreement with the government,” an official from MSF-Holland said.

MSF can resume healthcare services in Rakhine, and continue them in Chin, Kachin and Shan states as well as in Yangon Region under the two-year agreement.

It will spend about US$29.7 million to combat tuberculosis, malaria, and HIV/AIDS. It will also provide maternal and child healthcare services. All services will be conducted in cooperation with the Ministry of Health.

“The Union government committee already signed an MoU with MSF. After signing the MoU, we plan to discuss it with the health department in Rakhine State. And then, we must submit MSF’s monthly work plans to the government-run Emergency Coordination Centre,” said Win Myaing, secretary of the Rakhine State information and record committee.

Win Myaing said MSF-Holland would face stricter oversight by local officials when it returns to Rakhine. “They will not be allowed to operate their projects any way they want to. Although MSF offerred assistance in a spirit of goodwill, some of its staff went beyond their duties. That’s why local people cannot accept the behaviour of MSF employees. Due to their actions, they had to leave. Now, if they continue to act as they did before history will repeat itself, but if they work within their framework there is no need to deny the assistance they offer,” the official explained.

“We don’t know when they will restart their work in Rakhine,” he added.

MSF-Holland was ordered to suspend its operations in Rakhine State on February 26, following rising anger towards the NGO by ethnic Rakhine residents who said it was biased in its delivery of services towards the state’s Muslim minority.

MSF had been providing services to more than 2,000 people with HIV/AIDS, as well as tuberculosis patients. It had been the state’s main NGO combatting malaria. It also provided medical aid to about 60,000 residents of camps for internally displaced persons, as well as maternal and child healthcare.
On July 24, the Ministry of Health invited international NGOs, including MSF, to resume operations in Rakhine State with announcements in state-owned newspapers. This was followed by talks between health ministry officials and MSF-Holland, officials said.

MSF-Holland provided healthcare services to more than 400,000 patients in Myanmar last year, it says. It is leading the fight against drug-resistant TB in Myanmar. Its malaria-prevention efforts in Rakhine State are also considered vital to the global effort to prevent the spread of drug-resistant malaria.


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