Tag Archives: myanmar

We’ve discovered a new, adorable species in Myanmar — it’s already on the brink of extinction

A new species of primate has been discovered in the forests of central Myanmar. The diminutive animal is a leaf-eating tree-dweller with a distinctive mask-like face framed by unruly grey hair. However, it’s probably already on the brink of extinction.

The newly discovered Popa langur. Image credits Thaung Win.

Christened as the Popa langur after an extinct volcano where the largest known group of these monkeys live (around 100 individuals), the species has likely existed for at least a million years, the study reports. But estimates place the species’ living population at somewhere between 200 and 250 individuals, so the researchers are calling for it to be classified as “critically endangered”.

Small and rare

“Just described, the Popa langur is already facing extinction,” said senior author Frank Momberg, a researcher at Fauna & Flora International (FFI), in Yangon.

The species is feeling extreme pressure from “hunting, habitat loss, degradation, fragmentation caused by agricultural encroachment, and illegal or unsustainable timber extraction” throughout all of its natural range, the study found, which helps explain how its numbers got so low.

The species was first discovered in the backrooms of the London Natural History Museum. Genetic analysis of specimens gathered in British Burma more than a century ago revealed that some specimens belonged to a new species. Feces samples recovered by Momberg and his colleagues in the forests of central Myanmar matched those specimens, showing that the mysterious langurs were still alive and kicking.

Finally, in 2018, the team managed to capture one such langur on camera, revealing their distinctive look. Trachypithecus popa, or T. popa for short, has a grey-brownish and white belly, with black hands and wrists. Its tail stands nearly a meter long, and the whole animal weighs around 8 kilograms (18 pounds) — around twice the weight of your typical house cat.

“Additional field surveys and protection measures are urgently required and will be conducted by FFI and others to save the langurs from extinction,” said Ngwe Lwin, a primatologist with FFI’s Myanmar program.

The team also carried out a genetic analysis, based on mitochondrial genomes of 41 specimens, to get a broader picture of the evolutionary history of the langur family. They found that the four distinct groups that make up this family (all are currently endemic to Asia) diverged from a common ancestor some four million years ago. T. popa has been a distinct species for at least one million years, they add.

Several of the 20 known langur species worldwide are critically endangered. Hopefully, research such as this one can lead to them not disappearing.

The paper “Mitogenomic phylogeny of the Asian colobine genus Trachypithecus with special focus on Trachypithecus phayrei (Blyth, 1847) and description of a new species” has been published in the journal Zoological Research.

Myanmar eliminates trachoma, the world’s leading infectious cause of blindness

Trachoma is caused by the bacterium called Chlamydia trachomatis. In its early stages, trachoma causes conjunctivitis (pink eye) with symptoms appearing within five to 12 days of exposure to the pathogen. As the infection progresses, it causes eye pain and blurred vision.

World Health Organization (WHO) simplified system. (a) Normal conjunctiva, showing area to be examined. (b) Follicular trachomatous inflammation (TF). (c) Intense trachomatous inflammation (TI) (and follicular trachomatous inflammation). (d) Conjunctival scarring (TS). (e) Trichiasis (TT). (f) Corneal opacity (CO).

If left untreated, scarring occurs inside the eyelid leading to the eyelashes turning inward toward the eye (a condition called trichiasis). As the eyelashes scratch against the cornea, it becomes irritated and eventually turns cloudy and can lead to corneal ulcers and vision loss. Generally, it takes years before trachoma can cause vision loss. In the early stages of the disease, antibiotics are very effective but more advanced cases may need surgery to help limit further scarring of the cornea and prevent further loss of vision. A corneal transplant can help if the cornea is so clouded that vision is significantly impaired.

Trachoma is the leading infectious cause of blindness globally and has long been considered a major public health problem in the Southeast Asian nation, with the first Trachoma Control Project initiated in 1964 by the Ministry of Health and Sports, with support from WHO and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). 

In 2005, trachoma was responsible for 4% of all cases of blindness in Myanmar. From 2010 to 2015, the annual period prevalence of blindness from all causes in the total population was very low in all regions and states, ranging from 0% to 0.023%. By 2018, this prevalence dropped to 0.008%. The WHO Weekly Epidemiological Record in July also reported the number of people at risk of trachoma has been reduced by 91% — from 1.5 billion in 2002, to 136.9 million in May 2020.

In order to eliminate trachoma as a public health problem, there is a WHO-recommended “S.A.F.E.” strategy which includes: Surgery for trichiasis, Antibiotics to clear Chlamydia trachomatis infection, Facial cleanliness, and Environmental improvement to reduce transmission. Community-based interventions also include improved access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), and health education promoting behavior change to decrease transmission.

“This remarkable achievement reminds us of the importance of strong political commitment to implement integrated disease elimination measures, public engagement and disease surveillance,” said Dr. Mwelecele Ntuli Malecela, WHO Director, Department of Control of Neglected Tropical Diseases. “The new neglected tropical disease road map for 2021–2030, which will foster these processes globally, should allow us to anticipate more such success stories from countries using WHO-recommended strategies.”

Myanmar is the tenth country worldwide following Cambodia, China, Ghana, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Mexico, Morocco, Nepal, and Oman to reach this milestone. It remains a public health problem in 44 countries and is responsible for the blindness or visual impairment of an estimated 1.9 million people, most of whom are extremely poor. Regular post-validation trachoma surveys are also planned to provide post-validation surveillance. Successful validation of elimination of trachoma as a public health problem in Myanmar will encourage other health ministries and their partners to continue their efforts against this painful blinding disease.

Half a year into the pandemic, there are still people who haven’t heard of it — and it’s bad for everyone

In the age defined by a pandemic, you’d be surprised to find out that someone hasn’t heard about the outbreak. But some pretty large groups of people haven’t.

United Nations Operation in Somalia vehicles in Mogadishu in the 1990s.
Image via Wikimedia.

We’re almost half-year into the most disruptive event most of us have ever lived through. Given how much it impacted our lives, how it holds headlines, you’d think that everyone heard about the coronavirus by now.

And yet, migrants arriving in Somalia are surprised to hear United Nations workers tell them of COVID-19. A year-long internet blackout in the states of Rakhine and Chin in Myanmar, imposed by the government amidst a conflict with the Arakan Army, a local insurgent group, means that many people there likely haven’t heard about the pandemic, either.

Old news

“We’ve been interviewing migrants for many years,” said Celeste Sanchez Bean, a program manager with the U.N. migration agency based in Somalia, to Associated Press (AP). “I’m not super shocked that levels of awareness of the coronavirus are still very low.”

Monitors for the International Organization for Migration, the U.N. migration agency keep watch over the border of Somalia, as it lays right in the middle of some of the world’s most dangerous routes — across the Red Sea, through Yemen into rich Gulf countries.

As part of this effort, they question migrants on their origin, destination, and reason for travelling, so they can spot potential traffickers or other evil-doers. Since the outbreak, they’ve also started asking them whether they’re aware of the coronavirus.

Image modified after user Image Editor / Flickr.

Bean explained that in the week ending June 20, 51% of the 3,471 people tracked said they had never heard of COVID-19. The percentage of people who hadn’t heard of it was 88% in the early weeks of the pandemic.

Most people going this way are young men from rural Ethiopia with no education and with generally poor internet access. Some were not even aware Yemen was engulfed in a war despite the fact that they were going that way.

Such findings showcase how hard it may be for relatively remote populations to even be aware that there’s a pandemic going on. With this in mind, co-coordinating a truly global response to what is a very much global problem seems hopeful at best. Still, the U.N. is working on spreading the word. Refugees are given a basic rundown of the latest events, the symptoms to watch out for, and are educated on how to keep themselves safe.

Communication breakdowns

Myanmar, meanwhile, doesn’t have the connection issues of Ethiopia — but it does have a local insurgency problem.

Authorities imposed an Internet shutdown in nine specific areas and townships in Rakhine and Chin back in June 2019. The step was taken over concerns that the insurgent Arakan Army (which wants more autonomy for Rakhine’s Buddhist population) might be using mobile internet to organize and “target the army”, according to Bussiness Insider. Rakhine is home to the Rohingya Muslim population. Hundreds of thousands of refugees have fled persecution into neighboring states.

Myanmar with Rakhine State highlighted.
Image modified after Google Maps.

The shutdown has since been lifted from one of these towns but remains in effect in the other eight.

“We will restore internet service if there are no more threats to the public or violations of the telecommunications law,” a government official said as the shutdown was extended from June to August this year.

Meanwhile, humanitarian workers in these regions are reporting that whole communities are unaware that there’s a pandemic at all. AP cites Htoot May, an MP for the Arakan National League for Democracy in Myanmar’s parliament, as saying that the has to explain the pandemic to people “from the beginning”, telling them about social distancing and proper hand hygiene.

Such cases show that we still live in a world where the flow of information can become politicized, or is simply insufficient to keep everybody in the loop.

A pandemic, especially one like the COVID-19 outbreak for which we have no natural defenses, is ultimately a global issue. There is no ‘us’ and ‘them’ with highly infectious diseases. As long as communities don’t know that there’s a threat, they’ll be completely vulnerable. And if they are left unprotected, there’s always the risk of a new wave taking place.

We all are very much failing people such as those in Myanmar and Africa during this pandemic.

Free access to and flow of information is vial in such cases, which makes the fact that some people are still unaware of the pandemic surprising, but also very worrying.

NASA images show devastation in Myanmar



Every once in a while, we are reminded that we live on this wonderful planet but that can sometimes display an impressive amount of destructive force. This year, from the first cyclone of the 2008 season in the northern Indian Ocean we were reminded how frail and easy to destroy are the lives of people.According to reports from Accuweather.com, Cyclone Nargis made landfall with sustained winds of 130 mph and gusts of 150-160 mph, which makes it a a strong Category 3 or minimal Category 4 hurricane. Of course, that doesn’t make it quite easy to understand the full implications; let me put it this way: several thousand people have been killed, and thousands more were missing as of May 5.

NASA’s Terra satellite made those two photos, using the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) which relies on a combination of visible and infrared light to make floodwaters obvious. Water is blue or nearly black, vegetation is bright green, bare ground is tan, and clouds are white or light blue.

Another bad thing is the fact that many more regions are not prepared to handle this kind of hurricane, and with the rainy season just starting… the future doesn’t sound that great. The entire coastal plain is flooded in the May 5 image.