Myanmar doctors under a military coup in the midst of the pandemic

Aye Soe is originally from Myanmar and is currently working in the UK.

Myanmar (once known as Burma) in South East Asia (SEA) has been tackling Covid 19 Pandemic in every way possible from the start and has planned to vaccinate its population as early as possible.

Due to the efforts of a dedicated National Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI) team in Myanmar, Covid vaccination for healthcare workers was started in January 2021. Then it was the turn of the general population in February. However, this all came to a halt when the military coup happened on 1st February 2021 after the junta cited unproven claims of election fraud.

Doctors, Nurses, health care workers and admin staff in Myanmar started the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) to show support for the democratically elected government, as well as to reject oppression from an unelected military regime. The CDM has gained momentum across the country, with other sectors joining in in the movement.

The military regime has targeted medical professionals by means of intimidation, arbitrary arrests, false accusation and defamation.

Hence, the military regime has targeted medical professionals by means of intimidation, arbitrary arrests, false accusation and defamation.

Doctors who are actively involved in the CDM or leading the movement are now in hiding for their safety. Some prominent doctors have active arrest warrants for them, and some face accusations and defamation.

One example of defamation is that of EPI director Dr Htar Htar Lin on social media. She is a well-known figure in her field in Myanmar as well as in SEA. The following letter which she addressed to her counterparts explained details of the difficulties and unreasonable demands she faced as a doctor. Dr Htar Htar Lin’s letter:

It is heart breaking to learn that her position as a director of EPI program is being manipulated, her safety is compromised and her freedom is at risk. We, as medical professionals, admire her courage and bravery in standing up to corruption.

We write this letter in support of all Myanmar Doctors who are standing up to injustice and defending democracy. We would like to raise awareness among international communities of how the political situation and illegal grappling of power threatens the lives of people in Myanmar.

It is also our hope that other medical professionals around the world will support Myanmar healthcare professionals in their quest for justice, and support universal healthcare provision in Myanmar in any way they can.

DOI: Dr Soe is a classmate and a friend of Dr Htar Htar Lin. She received no funding / sponsorship for this article. This is her independent expressed opinion.

Featured photo by Julie Ricard on Unsplash



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The dilemma of civil disobedience at a time of Covid | BJGP Life

Hay Mar Aung is from Myanmar. She currently works as an Emergency Medicine Registrar in the UK.
My country was trying to cultivate the tree of democracy and freedom when on the 1 February 2021 the military coup, justified by false claims of election fraud, took us back to the dark days of military rule.
Thousands of civilians went on strike and protested all over the country, the initiative for this came from the medical professionals. All doctors are aware of the Hippocratic oath but a growing number of physicians have come to feel that the Hippocratic oath was written long before the advancements in bioethics and is inadequate to address the realities of the modern medical world.1 It makes no mention of such contemporary issues as the ethics of research or a doctor’s societal responsibilities. Doctors in Myanmar still believe in the spirit of the Hippocratic oath but is it still applicable in the current crisis that we face in Myanmar?

Military terrorists are using COVID-19 as a bioweapon […] This is a catastrophic humanitarian crisis …

In India, in the Charaka Samhita, a sanskrit text on Indian traditional medicine, physicians could refuse to treat people who were not favoured by the king, which shows that oaths were a product of the sociocultural factors of the times they were created.2
Doctors in Myanmar decided to start the strike known as The Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM), and more than 80% of doctors got involved. They are not from political backgrounds but are committed to supporting the next generation in their struggle for democracy and feel unable to obey this illegitimate government.
Some doctors are collaborating with the private sector and non-government organisations to provide essential health care to people. Unfortunately, the military have detained thousands of medical professionals and volunteer staff. Many of the medical staff cannot stay in their homes and have to move from place to place to avoid being arrested by the military.

COVID-19 cases began to rise sharply in early June 2021 and there was a significant increase in the number of COVID-19 related mortalities. This is a catastrophic humanitarian crisis and the people of Myanmar are suffering because of the impact of both COVID-19 and the coup.
Military terrorists are using COVID-19 as a bioweapon, they are blocking the supply of medicines that are used to treat COVID-19, as well as taking away the oxygen supplies of the private and volunteer organisations. On 16 July, one private hospital in Myamar had to shut down their emergency department because the military had cut off the oxygen supply.
The Junta has stated in the newspaper ‘We have enough oxygen’ but this is untrue, they are blocking the supply of oxygen. Two colleagues of mine from medical school died in ITU at one of the government hospitals because of a lack of oxygen.
The people of Myanmar, including my family and relatives, are desperately searching for oxygen. On 13 July Yangon General Hospital was overwhelmed by desperate people needing oxygen treatment but the hospital didn’t have enough of a supply or enough staff. The police fired shots above the crowd to drive them away.
The healthcare system is at breaking point, some medical professionals are hiding in the jungle. Providing primary medical care is a real challenge.

The healthcare system is at breaking point, some medical professionals are hiding in the jungle.

Through webinars doctors in the UK, especially those from Myanmar, are giving moral support to their colleagues in Myanmar, and are helping by sharing their experience for the home management of COVID-19 and some common medical conditions. They are also trying to find ways to supply oxygen concentrators but are concerned that supplies might not reach the needy civilians and that doctors involved would be detained by the military.
Some Myanmar doctors here in the UK have significant feelings of guilt because as medical professionals we do not feel we are able to effectively support colleagues to provide health care for their communities back home.
Doctors in Myanmar are aware that the international community has expressed concern for our country. In supporting the CDM, they are caught between the duty of care they have for the wellbeing of the communities they serve and the need to make a stand for democracy and freedom in our country.

1. Tyson P. The Hippocratic oath today. 2001. (accessed 31 August 2021).
2. Indla V, Radhika MS. Hippocratic oath: losing relevance in today’s world? Indian J Psychiatry 2019; 61(Suppl 4): S773–S775.

Read further on the healthcare crisis in Myanmar on BJGP Life
The dream of universal healthcare in Myanmar becomes a nightmare.
Project Empathy. A response to the healthcare crisis in Myanmar.
Myanmar doctors under a military coup in the midst of the pandemic.

Featured images from Dr Jim Brockbank.

Win Win
Win Win
1 year ago

“ First Do No Harm “
Those with good ethics know that health care has nothing to do with politics & government.
Doctors have to heal even the enemy.
BMA title is “Punished for doing their jobs”
Doctors in Myanmar get arrested and persecuted for nothing more than wanting to care for their patients. Seren Boyd hears about the lives of doctors battling to maintain medical neutrality in the face of a repressive dictatorship

They were among the first to take to the streets when the military junta seized power in February. Doctors joined hundreds of thousands of others in peaceful pro-democracy protests, from Dawei to Mandalay.
BMA admit doctors are the first to take to the streets when the military take power. Looks likes no patients in hospitals during pandemics.

So BMA is telling us doctors are “doing their jobs” on the streets, “nothing more than wanting to care for their patients”

What a wonderful world we live in.

Here is from BBC
Organised resistance to the 1 February coup in Myanmar started with healthcare workers announcing a boycott of state-run hospitals. They led the first street protests, calling it the “white coat revolution”.

That put medics on a collision course with the junta, and has resulted in much of Myanmar’s healthcare system going underground.
Many Doctors with good ethics do not join CDM and gov is sending military doctors to hospitals. That is why Myanmar can successfully controlled COVID-19.

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