A Call to End Violence Against Healthcare Professionals in Myanmar

Blog by Kaung Suu Lwin, Khin Thet Swe, Phyu Phyu Thin Zaw, Stuart Gilmour and Shuhei Nomura

  • Escalating catastrophic human rights violations by Myanmar military is threatening health and human security of Myanmar people.
  • Myanmar’s healthcare system is overwhelmed due to violence against healthcare professionals following the military coup.
  • We are issuing a call to end violence against healthcare professionals in Myanmar.

It has been more than four months since the Myanmar military executed a coup d’état in an attempt to overthrow the country’s democratically elected government (BBC 2021). In response, millions of Myanmar citizens have been staging widespread peaceful protests demanding a return to the democratization process (BBC 2021). However, the military’s security forces have been responding with an escalating and brutal crackdown characterized by catastrophic human rights violations ranging from unlawful and arbitrary arrests and detentions to the extrajudicial killing of innocent civilians (BBC 2021, AAPP 2021).

A medical staff makes a three finger salute with a red ribbon on a uniform at the Yangon General Hospital in Yangon on February 3, 2021 as calls for a civil disobedience gather pace following a military coup detaining civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi. (Photo by STR / AFP)

Healthcare workers and professionals have been systematically targeted by the military since many of them have been leading the civil disobedience movement (CDM) as a peaceful, non-violent protest against the military coup (Soe et al. 2021, Shepherd 2021, WHO 2021). Although the protests have been peaceful, the military has responded with indiscriminate force, killing more than 800 people, including more than 20 children and adolescents (AAPP, 2021). The Myanmar military have targeted volunteer clinics where doctors and medics provide free emergency treatment to injured people and have even shot at ambulances (WHO 2021, UN OCHA 2021). More than 200 healthcare workers, including emergency medical teams, were violently detained or killed while trying to provide emergency life-saving treatment to injured civilians (WHO 2021, UN OCHA 2021.). Moreover, the military security force intentionally destroyed medical supplies in hospitals and volunteer clinics and erased CCTV records in an attempt to cover their violent acts (WHO 2021, OCHA 2021).

As well as participating in and leading the CDM, healthcare workers and professionals have also been providing emergency and essential healthcare services to the public in collaboration with private health care facilities, charitable organizations, local non-government organizations (NGO) and ethnic health organizations (EHO) (Soe et al. 2021). However, offices and clinics of charitable organizations and local NGOs were raided after the organizations had provided emergency life-saving care to the civilian protesters (WHO 2021, OCHA 2021). In addition, the coordinated efforts to manage COVID-19 have been disrupted with testing numbers declining from 15 000 to 20 000 per day in January, before the coup, to about one tenth of that number since February, after the coup (Mahase 2021, Ministry of Health and Sports 2021). Moreover, the COVID-19 vaccination program has also been disrupted (Mahase 2021), and more than 50,000 people have been displaced due to armed clashes between the military and ethnic armed forces (OCHA 2021).The attacks on healthcare by the military, if allowed to continue, will result in a total and complete collapse of Myanmar’s health system which is already fragile and overstretched amid the COVID-19 pandemic (Soe et al. 2021, WHO 2021, OCHA 2021, Mahase 2021).

Urgent action is required from the international community in response to the health and human rights crisis in Myanmar. While all forms of violence in any context must be condemned, the current violations against Myanmar medical personnel by the military are particularly shocking because healthcare personnel were already struggling with the COVID-19 global health crisis. Since the COVID-19 virus does not stop spreading at national borders, inadequate vaccine coverage in Myanmar and disruptions to local disease response mechanisms could seriously compromise regional and global COVID-19 containment efforts if immediate action is not taken (Ministry of Health and Sports, 2021, Mahase 2021). We are issuing a call for the Myanmar military to immediately stop the killing of civilians in Myanmar, to commit to a peaceful resolution of the current dispute, and to establish a framework for a return to peace and democracy, and we hope that the UN, WHO and other international organizations will support this demand. Until the Myanmar military can restrain itself, we call for the global health community to provide logistic aid for emergency essential healthcare including COVID-19 testing and vaccination in the neighboring countries of Myanmar for populations displaced due to military attacks on civilians. We call for the international community to fully implement UN Security Council Resolution 2286 which strongly condemns attacks on healthcare personnel in conflict situations ((UN Security Council 2016) and fully adopt necessary measures to enhance protection of and access to healthcare in Myanmar. With recent reports of military confrontation with ethnic armed forces in the east of Myanmar (OCHA 2021), and the escalation of military attacks on demonstrators (AAPP 2021, BBC 2021), we fear that our nation is sliding towards another civil war like that which has raged in Syria for the past 10 years. The international community’s failure to act early and compassionately to find a solution to that conflict is a stain on their moral fabric, and all efforts should be made to avoid a repeat of this situation in Myanmar. Only by concerted international pressure can our country be brought back from the brink of chaos, and we call for all international organizations with influence in Myanmar to act now to end this catastrophic vicious cycle.

 

References

  1. 2021. “AAPP | Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.” AAPP | Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. 2021. https://aappb.org.
  2. BBC, News. 2021. “Myanmar Coup: The People Shot Dead since the Protests Began – BBC News.” BBC News. BBC News. April 12, 2021. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-56636345.
  3. Mahase, Elisabeth. 2021. “Covid-19: Military Coup in Myanmar Sees Virus Response Crumble as Doctors Are Arrested.” BMJ, March, n704. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.n704.
  4. Ministry of Health and Sports. 2021. “MINISTRY OF HEALTH AND SPORTS.” MINISTRY OF HEALTH AND SPORTS. Ministry of Health and Sports, Myanmar. 2021. https://www.mohs.gov.mm/Main/content/publication/2019-ncov.
  5. UN OCHA. 2021. “Myanmar: 2021 HNO and HRP Data by Humanitarian Consequence by Township  – Humanitarian Data Exchange.” Welcome  – Humanitarian Data Exchange. UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs: OCHA. 2021. https://data.humdata.org/dataset/myanmar-2021-hno-and-hrp-data-by-humanitarian-consequence-by-township.
  6. Save the Children International. 2021. “Myanmar’s Military Coup Claims Its Youngest Victim to Date as a 6-Year-Old Girl Is Reportedly Killed by Security Forces | Save the Children International.” Save the Children International. Save the Children International. March 23, 2021. https://www.savethechildren.net/news/myanmar%E2%80%99s-military-coup-claims-its-youngest-victim-date-6-year-old-girl-reportedly-killed.
  7. Shepherd, Alison. 2021. “Myanmar Medics Resist Military Coup.” BMJ, February, n368. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.n368.
  8. Soe, Zaw Wai, Maw Maw Oo, Khine Shwe Wah, Aye Thiri Naing, Rosanne Skalicky-Klein, and Georgina Phillips. 2021. “Myanmar’s Health Leaders Stand against Military Rule.” The Lancet, no. 10277 (March): 875. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0140-6736(21)00457-8.
  9. UN Security Council. 2016. “Refworld | Security Council Resolution 2286 (2016) [on Protection of the Wounded and Sick, Medical Personnel and Humanitarian Personnel in Armed Conflict].” Refworld. UN Security Council. 2016. https://www.refworld.org/docid/57319b0f4.html.
  10. World Health Organization, SSA. 2021. “SSA Home | Index.” WHO/OMS: Extranet Systems. WHO. 2021. https://extranet.who.int/ssa/Index.aspx.

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