JAKARTA, Indonesia – The secret clinic came under fire and the medics burst into tears.
Hidden in a monastery in Myanmar, this safe haven for the injured was created when they protested against the overthrow of the government by the military. But now security forces had discovered his location.
A bullet hit a young man in the neck while he was defending the door and medical staff desperately tried to stop the bleeding.
In Myanmar, the military has declared war on the health system – and on the doctors themselves, who were early and violently against the takeover in February. Security forces arrest, attack and kill medical personnel, calling them enemies of the state. As medical professionals are driven underground amid a global pandemic, the country’s already fragile health system is crumbling.
“The junta is deliberately targeting the entire health system as a weapon of war,” says a doctor in Yangon who had been on the run for months and whose colleagues were arrested in an underground clinic during a raid. “We believe that treating patients, our humanitarian work, is a moral task … I didn’t think this would be charged as a crime.”
In the clinic, the young man who was shot in the neck faded. A minute later he was dead.
A medical student at the clinic, whose name had been withheld from several medical professionals to protect her from retaliation, began to cry. She had never seen anyone shot before.
Now she too was in danger. Protesters broke a window so the paramedics could escape.
“Since then, I’ve been crying every day,” says the medical student.
The suffering caused by the military taking over the 54 million people was relentless. Security forces have killed at least 890 people, including a six-year-old girl they shot in the stomach, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which oversees arrests and deaths in Myanmar. Around 5,100 people are in custody and thousands have disappeared by force. The military, known as the Tatmadaw, and police have returned mutilated bodies to families as a means of terrorism.
With all the atrocities, the military’s attacks on medical professionals, one of the most revered professions in Myanmar, have generated particular outrage. Myanmar is one of the most dangerous places in the world for healthcare workers today, with 240 attacks this year – almost half of the 508 worldwide persecuted by the World Health Organization. That is by far the highest of any country.
“This is a group of people who stand up for what is right and stand up against decades of human rights abuses in Myanmar,” said Raha Wala, advocacy director of US Doctors for Human Rights. “The Tatmadaw is determined to use all means necessary to destroy their fundamental rights and freedoms.”
The military has issued arrest warrants for 400 doctors and 180 nurses. Your mission is to support and participate in the “civil disobedience” movement.
At least 157 healthcare workers have been arrested, 32 wounded and 12 killed since February 1, according to Insecurity Insight, which analyzes conflicts around the world.
Myanmar medical professionals and their supporters argue that these attacks violate international law that makes it illegal to attack or deny care to health workers and patients because of their political affiliation.
“During the protests in other countries, the doctors are safe. You are exempt. There are no exceptions here, ”says Dr. Nay Lin Tun, a family doctor who has been on the run since February and now cares in secret.
Paramedics are targeted by the military because they are highly regarded and well organized. Days after the military ousted democratically elected leaders, including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, medical professionals left their jobs in military facilities.
The military responded by beating medical personnel and stealing supplies. According to Insecurity Insight, Physicians for Human Rights, and the Johns Hopkins Center for Public Health and Human Rights, security guards have manned at least 51 hospitals since the takeover.
The military has accused doctors of genocide for not treating patients – although it is itself accused of genocide against the country’s Rohingya Muslim minority.
A military spokesman only responded to questions from The Associated Press by sending an article blaming alleged electoral fraud for the country’s problems. Suu Kyi’s party won the November election by landslide, and independent pollers found it largely free of major issues.
The crackdown in healthcare hits a vulnerable system at a critical time. Even before the takeover, Myanmar had 6.7 doctors per 10,000 inhabitants in 2018 – significantly fewer than the global average of 15.6 in 2017, according to the World Bank.
Now tests for COVID-19 have collapsed and the vaccination program has stalled, with its former head, Dr. Htar Htar Lin, charged with treason in June. COVID is rapidly spreading along Myanmar’s porous border with Bangladesh, India and Thailand, alarming health professionals.
The war against the medics is taking a heavy toll on those in need of medical care, especially the young.
Under a tarp in the rainforest, Naing Li stared helplessly at her firstborn child, who was just five days old. The newborn’s breath had become more labored and his tiny body felt like fire.
There was nothing she could do. Her husband was back in her village in western Myanmar fighting advancing soldiers. There were no paramedics to help.
The baby is one of the approximately 600,000 newborns who are not given basic care, putting them at risk of illness, disability and death, according to UNICEF. One million children lack routine vaccinations. More than 40,000 are no longer treated for malnutrition.
Naing Li desperately risked returning home. But when she got there, she found her husband hit in the back by a shrapnel.
The couple could only watch their son slip away. He died hours later in his mother’s arms.
This is what concerns the sick and wounded in the country: the people they could have saved if only they hadn’t been attacked.
“If we had the chance, we could have stopped the bleeding, we could have saved the patients, we could have prevented deaths. It hurts, ”says the doctor from Yangon. “The people who die are not just nobody. They are the future generations of our country. “
Gelineau reported from Sydney.
The Associated Press Health and Science Department is supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
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