BANGKOK—A former student leader who was jailed for his part in the 1988 pro-democracy movement in Burma is in danger of losing his eyesight, his wife said, after getting a letter from Ko Hla Myo Naung last month.
Ma Aye Aye Mar wrote to prison authorities in the northern city of Myitkyina requesting medical treatment for her husband after receiving the letter, she said.
"I received a letter from him saying that one of his eyes was bad. He said a doctor had seen his eye but the problem is not something that could be diagnosed just by looking into the eye with a flashlight," she said.
...With one eye already gone blind, he cannot afford to let the other eye go blind as well."
Ma Aye Aye Mar
"So we don’t know for sure what is wrong. I have only visited him once. I received a letter about this on Feb. 17."
She said the problem was similar to one he had already experienced in the other eye, resembling strobe flashes of light from time to time.
"The people there don’t know much," Ma Aye Aye Mar said. "Even in Rangoon there are only two eye specialists who can treat this kind of ailment."
Eye drops prescribed
"There are no proper medical instruments there either. They just looked at his eye and prescribed eye drops," she added.
Families of political prisoners requently report that Burmese prisoners with medical problems face difficulties because their medical records are not transferred together with them when they are moved to prisons in remote areas of Burma, a common practice making trips to visit prisoners lengthy and expensive.
Such prisoners miss out on their regular prescription medication and ongoing medical examinations as a result, and doctors and medical staff at the new prison often refuse to believe what the prisoners say about their medical condition in the absence of written proof.
Also at Myitkyina, political prisoner Ko Thein Aye became mentally disoriented after transferring there, because he was unable to take his regular medication for amnesia.
Ma Honey Oo, who has heart problems, was not given an electrocardiogram examination or her regular medication after she was transferred to Lashio prison from Rangoon's Insein prison without her medical records, sources said.
And sources close to Ko Kyaw Ko Ko, a prisoner transferred to Taunggyi with liver disease, said he was having problems after failing to get his regular prescriptions filled.
Fear of blindness
Ma Aye Aye Mar said she hoped to make a second visit to the Myitkyina jail at the end of March, although she had received no response to her letter requesting treatment yet.
"Since he was transferred to Myitkyina, I have not been too concerned with his other medical problems. He only has two eyes and with one eye already gone blind, he cannot afford to let the other eye go blind as well," she said.
"That is why I have made the appeal. I have asked for help but I have not received a reply as yet. So right now, I don’t know what to do. I will just see what I can do when I get there."
In a related case, a parliamentary representative serving a sentence in Mandalay Ohboe jail lost his sight in one eye after failing to receive treatment. U Than Lwin's eye was injured after he was hit with a brass knuckle.
Meanwhile, the family of Ko Pyone Cho, jailed for 65 years for his part in the 1988 pro-democracy demonstrations in a prison 790 miles (about 1,250 kms) from his family home in the former capital Rangoon, said they also had concerns about his health.
"After hearing that we had arrived in Kawthaung in February but were not allowed to visit him, he became worried and his blood pressure went up," U Win Maung said of his son's health.
"He had to take medication and a doctor took care of him. He had high blood pressure when he first arrived and this is the second time. His general health is good. The township medical doctor would visit the prison regularly and treat the prisoners," he said.
The family visited Ko Pyone Cho following his transfer to Kawthaung prison in the southernmost part of the country last December.
Conditions inside the jail were basic, with some access allowed to grow vegetables for food, but political prisoners were kept from speaking to one another, his father said.
"As for sleeping conditions, they were given a wooden bench and a bamboo mat on top. But since the weather is similar to that of Rangoon, it was not too cold. And as it would rain in the night, they did not suffer from the heat too much."
Original reporting by RFA's Burmese service. Burmese service director: Nancy Shwe. Translated by Soe Thinn. Executive producer: Susan Lavery. Written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.