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Three years on from the military coup in Myanmar health workers are still being targeted

1 February 2024


Today marks the third anniversary of the military coup in Myanmar. Over the past three years, citizens of Myanmar have faced persistent brutality at the hands of the junta.

According to Insecurity Insight, there have been 1,127 incidents of violence against health workers or obstruction of health care since 1 February 2021. In addition to such violence, health workers are facing daily persecution, with at least 897 arrests and regular beatings and some instances of torture while detained which has led to at least 5 detainees dying.  

At THET, we stand in unwavering solidarity with health workers in conflict zones globally. 

The entire world is in a perilous state, and it is understandable that conflicts and wars in other parts of the world have distracted our collective attention from the “hidden war” in Myanmar. But we must not let events elsewhere overshadow the brutality that doctors and nurses are facing daily in Myanmar. 

Violence against health workers in Myanmar has escalated since late 2022, with the junta increasingly using plane- or drone-delivered explosive weapons. At least 74 incidents of explosives delivered by aircraft that damaged clinics, hospitals, pharmacies, and rural health centres have been recorded since the coup. 

Limited humanitarian access has also resulted in broad regional variance in medical supplies, with the military purposefully withholding limited aid from the ethnic regions. This represents a significant risk for the population, where preventable diseases are allowed to flourish and take the lives of children, who are particularly vulnerable considering the plummeting rate of childhood immunisation in Myanmar. Previously controlled diseases such as polio, measles, and diphtheria are highly likely to resurge​, posing a threat to vulnerable groups, neighbouring countries, and global reduction targets. 

Since the coup, institutions and individuals in the UK have joined together to become the Health Partnerships for Myanmar group, convened by THET. This group has worked together to provide much-needed medical education, guidance, and support for health workers in Myanmar. Through coordination and dedication, this group, alongside the diaspora in the UK, has enabled nurses, junior doctors, GPs, and specialists to access resources and training to support their practice. 

It is also heartening to see Royal Colleges across the UK illuminate in red on the anniversary of the coup, to show solidarity with health workers in Myanmar and pay tribute to the thousands of individuals who live in one of the deadliest countries in the world to be a health worker. Last year, 15 Royal Colleges illuminated their buildings on the anniversary of the coup, with several including the BMA to repeat the tribute this year.

The BMA continues to stand in solidarity with our colleagues in Myanmar, who provide vital medical cover in the most unimaginably difficult circumstances. Attacks on healthcare facilities and workers are completely unacceptable. Given the difficulties around the world, it is more important than ever that the principle of medical neutrality is respected universally, so medical care can be provided free from violent threats or politicisation.

Dr Jan Wise, BMA Medical Ethics Committee Chair.

While since May 2021, the UK government has provided welcome funding to support this work, more action is needed as the crisis deepens. The UK government has shown global leadership through sanctions and at the UN Security Council, but there is a need to now place health and health workers at the centre of all conversations. Integral to greater coordinated international action is a deeper understanding of the situation by global partners, recognising the consequences of the specific persecution of health workers.   

The Health Partnerships for Myanmar group is collectively asking the UK government to continue and further develop its support for humanitarian access, satellite coverage and greater recognition of the dire status of health and human rights in Myanmar within global forums. 

It is crucial that health is at the forefront of the international response to conflicts around the world. The most basic human rights of many of the citizens of Myanmar have already been brutally removed and as the violent oppression continues, the global community must prioritise the needs of health workers and innocent citizens before even more lives are claimed. 

This post was written by:

THET - External Engagement Team


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