Major Myanmar Hospital Closes Outpatient Departments as Doctors Hit by COVID-19

By The Irrawaddy 15 February 2022

Outpatient departments in Yangon General Hospital (YGH), one of Myanmar’s biggest public hospitals, have been shut down for ten days because of staff shortages as the country experiences a surge in COVID-19 cases.

With the highly infectious Omicron variant spreading fast, YGH announced on Monday that it would close five outpatient departments for ten days starting from Tuesday due to a shortage of doctors, nurses and other staff.

The affected outpatient departments are the General Medical Unit, Department of Medical Oncology, Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Department of Gastroenterology and Department of Diabetes and Endocrinology.

Last week, YGH also announced that the Department of Cardiovascular Medicine would shut for five days as senior doctors from the department have COVID-19.

Coronavirus cases have been rising in Myanmar since early February. On Monday, the Ministry of Health said that there were 1,586 new cases, a significant jump from last month when daily new infections were in double figures.

Myanmar has recorded 19,311 COVID-19 related deaths since the first coronavirus case was reported in March 2020.

The 2,000-bed YGH is one of the best-equipped public hospitals in Myanmar, providing a medical lifeline for people on low incomes and from rural areas.

In normal times, the hospital has over 250 doctors and over 500 nurses, according to the Yangon City Development Committee’s website.

However, like many other government hospitals in the country, YGH is now struggling to remain functional as many of the staff have joined the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) and have been refusing to work for the military regime since last year’s coup.

Junta leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing admitted earlier this month that only 765 of Myanmar’s 1,077 hospitals are functional because of striking medical staff.

The regime is pressuring staff to return to work by detaining them or issuing arrest warrants against them.

Despite that, over 50 per cent of the junior medical staff and 30 per cent of senior medical staff from YGH are still on strike, according to CDM-supporting medics who used to work there, leaving the hospital badly understaffed. The current COVID-19 crisis has made the situation even worse.

A working medic from YGH told The Irrawaddy that the outpatient departments have been struggling to stay operational since the coup as there now only around five doctors working in each department, compared to a dozen before the military takeover.

“Now three or four doctors are down with COVID-19. We don’t have enough people to run our department,” said the medic, who requested anonymity.

While the closure of the departments is a temporary measure, it will have a negative impact on the outpatients who rely on them.

A CDM-supporting doctor from YGH told The Irrawaddy that most of the patients come to YGH to see doctors from the General Medical Unit. The second-busiest department is endocrinology and the third is oncology.

“Some outpatients suffering from cancer or needing hormone treatment need to adjust the doses of their medication regularly. It will be difficult for those patients,” the doctor said.

The outpatient department of the Yangon, Ear, Nose and Throat Public Hospital also announced that it will be closing for eight days from Monday because most of its staff have COVID-19.

Despite the coronavirus surge, coup leader Snr-Gen. Min Aung Hlaing held a grand military review on Saturday in Naypyitaw, attended by over 10,000 people. After the parade, the number of new COVID-19 cases in Naypyitaw was 90, three times higher than previous weeks.

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