Even in a country with a history of politicising healthcare, the six months since the Tatmadaw armed forces seized power in Myanmar on 1 February have been particularly bloody for the nation’s healthcare professionals.
On 28 March, during a strike against the military dictatorship in the city of Monywa, a nurse was fatally shot in the head. On 21 April, two private hospitals in Bhamo, Kachin state, had their licences to treat patients revoked. This came after Myanmar armed forces said they would revoke the licence of any health facility that employs health workers who participate in the civil disobedience movement resisting the junta’s rule, and would prosecute those that provide assistance to health workers. On 8 May, in northern Kachin, a doctor was arrested and fatally shot in the head while passing a military base, and in June, two covid-19 treatment centres in Sagaing were destroyed by military shelling.
In this, the third military coup in the last 60 years, Myanmar has become one of the most dangerous places on earth for healthcare workers, with 240 attacks this year; nearly half of the 508 attacks tracked globally by the World Health Organization. A report in July by UK Aid, USAID, and Manchester University’s Researching the Impact of Attacks on Healthcare1 found that there had been 190 arrests of healthcare workers, 25 killings of healthcare workers, and 55 military occupations of hospitals in the five months to 1 July.
The junta’s violent reprisals against healthcare stem from a belief that medics are the principal exponents of the civil disobedience movement, says Thomas Andrews, UN special rapporteur on Myanmar. “Yes, doctors care deeply about what has happened to their country and see the impacts first hand, but you can’t exaggerate the role one profession plays in what is a widespread movement,” he told The BMJ. The arrest and harassment of doctors while treating patients in the Myanmar protests have been condemned by the World Medical Association.2
Rather than acknowledging its attacks on medical workers, the military is instead accusing them of genocide for not treating patients. “They are killing people in cold blood. If this is not genocide, what shall I call it?” military spokesperson Major General Zaw Min Tun said during a live broadcast on national television on 9 April.