Frontline medics around the world have been hailed as heroes for their struggle against the Covid-19 pandemic but in Myanmar, they are denounced by the regime as traitors and hunted down.
Health workers have been at the top of the junta’s hitlist since the military overthrew the Southeast Asian nation’s democratic government in February and medics walked out of government hospitals, joining a “civil disobedience” movement in protest.
According to the US-based Physicians for Human Rights group, there were at least 252 attacks and threats against health workers and their facilities during the first six months of the junta’s crackdown on pro-democracy supporters.
The survey, conducted with Johns Hopkins University and released in August, said 25 health workers were killed, 37 injured, 190 arrested and that hospitals were raided at least 86 times and occupied in 55 different incidents.
Hundreds of doctors are in hiding from the regime, many of whom are treating patients in underground clinics, at great risk of punishment and without vital medical supplies.
One doctor who spoke to The Telegraph anonymously from his safehouse in August – see the video interview above – said medics and their families lived in constant fear of detention.
Health workers faced the prospect every day of being tortured or shot as they tried to reach and treat patients, he said.
“Last night in Yangon, there were five doctors arrested because they are seen treating Covid-19 positive patients. When did it become a sin to save lives?” he asked.
“If we don’t work at the government hospital it’s not a crime… We take care of our patients, just not at a government hospital,” he said.
Carrying out basic healthcare is now fraught with danger as groups of medics traverse cities in charity ambulances, negotiating roadblocks and trying to avoid arrest. Each day they work without food for as long as they can before an 8pm curfew.
“They shoot anyone who is on the road after 8pm so some days the patients are calling us and the time is after 8pm and we just can’t go. There are some patients we lose, because of time limitation. The Covid-19 cases are so high just now,” he said.
Myanmar has been overwhelmed by the virus after the healthcare system collapsed, along with its Covid-19 testing and vaccination process.
Officially there have been 425,000 cases and more than 16,000 deaths, but overflowing crematoriums have raised doubts about these figures. Many are believed to have died at home alone.
Patients “have many problems, many difficulties. First, they have no hospital to [be admitted to] when they suffer from Covid-19 disease,” said the doctor, adding that the junta had blocked oxygen supplies for private hospitals and citizens.
“The patient has to choose to stay in their home and try to survive themselves,” he said. “They [military] use Covid-19 as a weapon against the citizen.”
The doctor believes the junta’s ire towards health workers is fuelled by their desire to hide their own mismanagement of the crisis from the rest of the world.
“They are killing the country. They are making our country poorer and poorer. Our country has no hope,” he said.
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