Myanmar’s doctors are risking their lives in the civil disobedience movement 

The mission of all doctors is to treat patients, yet many of those living and working in Myanmar are currently unable to fulfil this purpose. For many of the medics of Myanmar, they feel they have been left with no choice but to boycott their work to participate in the civil disobedience movement against the national military coup. 

On 1 February 2021, the Myanmar military seized control of the country in a coup. On 2 February, the next day, many of Myanmar’s doctors announced that they could not accept the military regime’s illegal and undemocratic orders, and would demonstrate their opposition through peaceful means such as strikes. This civil disobedience movement to boycott work began with healthcare workers and has since spread to those who work in the railroad industry, educational institutions, and financial institutions, to name but a few. As a consequence, the everyday lives of people in Myanmar, its infrastructure, and the economy have been significantly impacted.

Approximately 31 000 medical doctors are estimated to work in Myanmar, and many of them work in the public sector. This means that since February, many medical services have almost wholly stopped. The number of covid-19 tests being carried out, which had been running at just over 15 000 to 20 000 per day in January before the coup, has dropped to about one tenth of that number since February, making it difficult to keep track of the trend of new cases and respond accordingly. It has also thrown Myanmar’s vaccination drive for covid-19 into disorder after the country’s rollout had only just begun on 27 January.

The military have demanded that doctors return to work, but strikes have continued. Many doctors I have spoken to have said they feel they have no choice but to boycott work and risk their lives against the military regime. “There is no hope for the future of Myanmar and our children if we sit back and let the coup happen,” as one doctor said to me.  

In my specialty, the number of patients admitted to Yangon General Hospital and its affiliated hospital dropped from approximately 500 at the end of January to only a handful by mid-February. What surprised me here was that it was not a case of doctors and hospitals forcing patients to leave the hospitals, but one of patients and their families voluntarily walking out of the hospitals to actively support the doctors’ civil disobedience movement. 

The healthcare situation in the country deteriorated further in March, as doctors who participated in the demonstrations and hospital directors who kept their hospitals closed have been captured one after another by the national military, and many doctors have stayed in hiding for fear of being detained.      

Myanmar’s doctors are risking their lives and boycotting work for what they see as the future of their country. I would strongly urge the international community to pay attention and provide all the forms of support they can so that the current situation of medical collapse will not be prolonged.

This article was anonymised on 22 April 2021.