COVID-19 Op-ed

Dangerously Lost in Translation: Fighting an Infodemic amid Covid-19 in Myanmar

Written by admin

Saw Lin
Student, Asia Pacific MA Human Rights and
Global Campus of Human Rights Asia
Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies, Mahidol

The government has been releasing public announcements to
mitigate the spread Covid-19 in Myanmar. However, the official language, Burmese,
proves to be challenging for ethnic peoples to fully grasp (Jacobsson, 2020).
People who live in remote areas need information in their language in order
to understand the situation and comply with health-related policies and
guidelines. Furthermore, fake news and misinformation are spreading around,
making it harder for the public to validate messages sent across. Language
vulnerabilities have indeed exacerbated threats of Covid-19 towards peoples
living at the margins and remote areas throughout the country (Minority Rights Group International,

The UN Special Rapporteur
on minority issues
, Fernand
de Varennes, expressed his concern on 30 March 2020 about the absence of
pandemic information in minority languages, including sign languages (OHCHR,
2020). The Director-General of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom
Ghebreyesus, also highlighted that “we are not just fighting an
epidemic, we are fighting an infodemic.” (TWB,

There have been a number of
efforts to bridge gaps in language barriers related to measures combatting
Covid-19. The World Health Organization established the OpenWHO web-based
platform to offer real-time online training in different national languages
(WHO, 2020). In Myanmar, WaterAid Myanmar produced the Covid-19 awareness
flyer for three ethnic languages in February (WaterAid Myanmar, 2020). On 23
March, the Ministry of Health and Sports published the Covid-19 preventive
info sheet in four ethnic languages on its Facebook page (Ministry of Health
and Sports Myanmar, 2020). An Ethnic Armed Organization, Karen National Union
Headquarters, also uploaded the awareness flyers on its Facebook on 26 March
(KNU, 2020).

Guidelines for Covid-19 prevention
are currently available on the web in Akha, Chin, Chinese, Danu, Kachin,
Kayah, Kayan, Kayin/Karen (Poe and Sagaw), Lahu, Lisue, Mon, Pakanyaw, PaOh,
Rakhine, Rohingya, Shan, and Zawtnak Kong. They are also available on the
Myanmar Information Management Unit’s website with audios, videos, and
messages in different languages (MIMU, 2020). Sometimes, some ethnic media
also provide Covid-19 online information. However, online platforms are not
accessible to ethnic peoples living in remote areas, where interent services
are unavailable, costly, and heavily regulated. Worse, in Rakhine and Chin
states, the state completely shut down the internet. While Translation
efforts are being done to raise awareness, official announcements and public
orders are yet to be made available in ethnic languages.

Aung Thu Nyeen from Institute for Strategy and Policy Myanmar
said that the government should disseminate information more directly and
inclusively. He proposed using ethnic languages and community radio programs
as a means to send messages widely across. (Jacobsson, 2020). According to
Article 4(e) of Myanmar Ethnic Rights
Protection Law, 2015, all ethnic people have equal rights in education,
health care, employment opportunity, and doing business (ILO, 2015).

The right to information is universal, according to
Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is directly
linked one’s right to access health-related education and information, as per
ICESCR Article 12, General Comments 14 and 22 (
2016). In order to combat COVID-19,
everyone should be able to enjoy the right to easily available, accurate, and
accessible information.
Dissemination also should be improved by
applying effective and inclusive means of communication to address infodemic
and pandemic in Myanmar. The Government of Myanmar, together with civil
society groups, must take immediate efforts to ensure that rights to
information in the minority and ethnic languages are attained.


Aljazeera, 2017. Myanmar: Major ethnic groups and
where they live.  on 14 March.
Available at: <>

Dutta, K., 2016.
Checklists for Core International Human Rights Treaties: A
. Bangkok: Asia Institute for Human Rights.  Available at: <>

ILO, 2015. Indigenous and Tribal Peoples.  Available through: <>

Jacobsson, A. S., 2020. Myanmar:
Community media Stops Covid-19 panic. 
2 April. Available at: <>

2020.  26 March. Available at:

MIMU, 2020. Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) Pandemic.
Myanmar Information Management Unit,  18 April. Available at: <>

Ministry of Health and Sports Myanmar, 2020.
Covid-19 Preventive awareness in Pwo, Sgaw, Rakhine, and Tedim languages.
on 24 March. Available at: <>

Minority Rights Group International, 2020. Report
Covid-19 Discrimination.  Available at:

OHCHR, 2020. Covid-19 Fear should not be exploited
to attack and exclude minorities – UN Expert. 
30 March. Available at: <>

RFA talk, 2020.  RFA, 2 May 2020 13:14. Available through:
<> .

TWB, 2020. Translators Without Borders tickle
COVID-19 “infodemic.”
Translators Without Borders,
08 April.  Available at: <>

WaterAid Myanmar, 2020. 2019 Novel
Coronavirus awareness information in Sgaw Karen language. . 3 February.
Available at: <>

2020. Responding to COVID-19, Real-time training in national languages.  Available at:

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