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The destruction of healthcare services in Myanmar since 2021

Guest contributor

Shalini Perumal

As Myanmar surpasses three years since the 2021 military coup, the nation finds itself embroiled in a relentless onslaught against its healthcare infrastructure. 

The coup was the culmination of a decade-long power struggle that plunged Myanmar into a state of turmoil. The military regime unleashed a campaign of terror marked by egregious attacks on health care facilities and severe blockades on medical supplies. 

For example, in the previous month, healthcare facilities in conflict-ridden northern Shan State encountered deficits in medical supplies because of Myanmar military blockades on roads leading to towns administered by ethnic armed organisations.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and 2021 coup, Myanmar’s health care system has faced near-complete devastation, with health care workers and patients bearing the brunt of the regime’s brutal crackdown. 

The U.N. Security Council issued a recent statement expressing concern for “the denial of access to medicine and medical care” and “lack of progress” in resolving the conflict.  

Reports from Insecurity Insight reveal a staggering tally of nearly 1,200 attacks on health care workers and facilities since 2021, painting a harrowing picture of the challenges faced by those on the frontlines of medical care.

Health care workers, despite facing imminent danger and pervasive uncertainty, have displayed unwavering resilience in their commitment to treating patients under the most adverse conditions. 

Forced to operate in makeshift hospitals, often in darkness to evade airstrikes, these courageous individuals grapple with the constant threat of arrest and violence.

Due to their proactive involvement and significant roles in the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM), health care workers have become prime targets for the military, resulting in the issuance of hundreds of arrest warrants for doctors and nurses. 

Additionally, health care workers have been subjected to arrests both at their workplaces and residences. According to Physicians for Human Rights, Myanmar is one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a healthcare worker.

The exodus of more than 70 percent of health-care workers has further exacerbated the crisis, leaving behind a skeletal workforce struggling to cope with overwhelming demand amidst a crumbling infrastructure. 

Infectious diseases such as malaria, HIV, and tuberculosis have surged, with patients grappling to access life-saving medications amid acute shortages and distribution challenges.

Myanmar’s health care crisis extends beyond its borders, with neighbouring countries also grappling with the fallout of the conflict. 

The U.N. stated that there are nearly 2.9 million Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Myanmar, indicating the urgent need for concerted international action to address the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in the region.

While international aid has been forthcoming, bureaucratic hurdles and political obstacles have hindered its effective distribution, leaving millions of vulnerable individuals without access to essential medical care. 

The imposition of sanctions against Myanmar’s military regime represents a critical step towards holding perpetrators of human rights abuses accountable, yet more concerted efforts are needed to strangle the its access to resources and revenue streams.

As Myanmar grapples with an unprecedented health care crisis, the international community must heed the urgent call to action, advocating for the safety and protection of health care workers and patients alike. 

By amplifying their voices and mobilising support for humanitarian efforts, we can strive towards a future where healthcare is no longer a casualty of conflict but a fundamental human right upheld with determined resolve.

Shalini Perumal is a creative international development professional who has worked previously in Mae Sot, Thailand at Mae Tao Clinic. She is currently a freelance journalist as well as Communications Officer at ActionAid India in New Delhi. The views expressed in the article are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of the organisation. 

DVB publishes a diversity of opinions that does not reflect DVB editorial policy. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our stories: [email protected]


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