Myanmar Coup Leader Resorts to Threats With Medics Still On Strike

By The Irrawaddy 23 February 2021

YANGON—Myanmar’s military coup leader said his regime will take action against government healthcare workers who have refused to work for the military junta.

In his latest warning, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing decried the fact that nearly one-third of Myanmar’s public hospitals have been no longer in function for nearly three weeks.

Following the coup on Feb. 1, many doctors, nurses and others in the country’s health sector have been on strike, taking part in what is popularly known as the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM). The healthcare workers condemned the takeover, demanded that the regime release the country’s detained leaders — the President U Win Myint and the State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi — and denounced military rule.

Inspired by their counterparts in the country’s health sector, government staff from other ministries left their desks to join the CDM. Even major private banks have found it hard to operate as their staff joined the movement.

The CDM by medical staff has dealt a serious blow to the junta, especially because it mostly came from doctors at government-run hospitals that played a major role in public health care. Since the ousted National League for Democracy government came to power in 2016, those hospitals have provided a lifeline for ill people especially at the grassroots level.

Snr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing first called for the medics on strike to go back to work nearly two weeks ago.

However, his latest warning demonstrates that his previous request was unanimously ignored by the striking medics.

On Monday, during his meeting with his regime’s governing body, the coup leader accused the doctors and nurses on strike of being “unethical.”

He said 357 hospitals out of 1,262 total in Myanmar have been shut down and only 778 were operational while 27 can’t provide treatments even though they were open. (He didn’t elaborate as to why the 27 hospitals can’t provide treatments.)

“Those undisciplined doctors and nurses will be punished according to the Civil Service Personnel Law,” he said.

Under the law, the maximum action against a civil servant is dismissal. No prison sentences could be applied.

Dr Win Ko Ko Thein, a deputy director from Ministry of Health who has been a part of the CDM since early this month, told The Irrawaddy that the coup leader’s warning was the best example of how desperate the military regime now is.

In the early days of the CDM, the regime announced they opened the doors of military hospitals to anyone who needed medical assistance. However, the senior general’s previous request and the latest warning suggest the medics in uniform may not be able to cope with the overwhelming need for public healthcare, probably due to their limited facilities and human resources.

The deputy director, who has been under police surveillance and is now in hiding, said the CDM is the final nail to the coffin of the country’s public healthcare system.

“Now the CDM makes it comes to a halt. As long as doctors and nurses are not back to work, they (the regime) can’t restore the public healthcare system here,” he said.

On Tuesday evening, the entrance of the Emergency Department of Yangon General Hospital, the city’s best-equipped medical facility, was unusually deserted. The normally busy gate at the western wing of the hospital was nearly closed. A few meters away from the hospital, at the entrance of Yangon’s University of Medicine (1), there stands a big signpost that says, “The CDM University.” The same goes for the nearby University of Nursing.

On the other hand, doctors have not turned a blind eye toward patients in need amid the closure of public hospitals. To back up the CDM, free clinics manned by some volunteer doctors have mushroomed especially for those who need regular follow-ups at government hospitals.

Dr Win Ko Ko Thein said there’s no sign that the medics would go back to work despite the threat of punishment and the junta has to find another solution.

“They can’t arrest all medics. If they do, there will surely be a complete system breakdown. The root cause of the whole problem is the coup,” he said.