By Mirva Helenius, IFRC

Following a recent outbreak of deadly H1N1 influenza in Myanmar, the Myanmar Red Cross Society is joining efforts to tackle the virus by sending trained volunteers to support the ambulance service in Yangon region.

Eighteen Red Cross volunteers have been selected to drive ambulances transferring patients for urgent medical care at the hospital dedicated to treat influenza cases.

An information technology technician by profession, 21-year-old Htoo Eain Lwin has already been volunteering with the Red Cross for almost six years. As soon as he was old enough to get his driver’s license, Htoo Eain Lwin joined the Red Cross ambulance service.

“Previously I have volunteered during festivals and other big events in my community, so transferring influenza patients is a new kind of a task for me. It’s a big responsibility of course, but I’m ready to respond and help others in any way I can,” Htoo Eain Lwin explains.

Htoo Eain Lwin is the youngest volunteer in the group, and he is very excited to learn from his more senior peers.

“I was still in high school when I first heard about the Red Cross from a volunteer who had dedicated most of his life to this Movement. I was very inspired by him. Now I’m proud to be part of it myself, and I hope I can also inspire others,” Htoo Eain Lwin says.

For the past three decades, Red Cross volunteer Kyaw Min Tun, 49, has inspired a lot of others to join the humanitarian movement. Despite driving people to places every day both as a taxi driver and as a Red Cross ambulance service volunteer, he thinks this task is very special.

“We are not only there to transfer patients, but also to support them. They are sick and have been separated from their families, so some of them might be scared. We can talk to them, give them comfort and encouragement,” Kyaw Min Tun says.

“All the selected volunteers are skilled ambulance drivers, have done advanced first aid trainings and are very committed to their role as Red Cross responders. Many have been volunteering with us for years, some even for decades,” says U Tin Ko Ko, Second Grade General Officer of the regional Red Cross brigade in Yangon.

The volunteers have received training on how to treat and carry the patients safely as well as how to protect themselves from contracting the disease. They have also been vaccinated against the flu.

In each ambulance, two Red Cross volunteers are joined by two medical personnel from the hospital.

Even though there is always a small risk that the volunteers could catch the flu themselves, they are not worried.

“We have received proper training to protect ourselves, and I have also shared this knowledge with my family. All my children now wash their hands regularly,” Kyaw Min Tun says.

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