In this Jan. 27, 2021, file photo, Health workers wait to receive the Covishield COVID-19 vaccine at the Ayeyarwaddy COVID treatment center in Yangon, Myanmar. Medical workers across Myanmar have begun a civil disobedience protest against Monday, Feb. 1, 2021's coup, pinning red ribbons and declaring they won’t work for the military government.(AP Photo/Thein Zaw, File)

Health workers start anti-coup protests in virus-hit Myanmar

Health workers start anti-coup protests in virus-hit Myanmar

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Medical workers across Myanmar began a civil disobedience protest against Monday’s coup, wearing red ribbons and declaring they won’t work for the new military government.

The army takeover that ousted the civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi over allegations of fraud in November’s elections could not have come at a worse time for a country battling a steady rise in COVID-19 cases with a dangerously inadequate health system.

“We want to show the world we are totally against military dictatorship and we want our elected government and leader back,” said Dr. Zun Ei Phyu, who lives in Yangon, the biggest city and commercial capital. “We want to show them we will follow only our elected government. Not the military.”

Health workers in government hospitals and facilities issued a statement Wednesday opposing the coup. Photos were shared on social media showing workers with red ribbons pinned to their clothes or holding printed photos of red ribbons. Others used a three-finger salute that has become a symbol of pro-democracy protests in neighbouring Thailand, where a former general has led the government since a 2014 coup.

Some medical staff went on strike while others who continued work in government-run clinics made public their opposition to the new military rulers.

Some of those on strike have begun to volunteer at charity health clinics, many of which were shut down as a precaution against a surge in COVID-19 cases. The clinics that have remained reopen are extending their working hours so people can still receive care during the protest, Zun Ei Phyu said.

“We give free treatment and medicine to anyone who is in need,” she said, adding the clinics often operate with donations from charities and local communities.

Myanmar’s early response to the pandemic mirrored that of many countries: borders were nearly completely closed, lengthy quarantines were imposed on travellers, and daily life slowed with stay-at-home orders.

It seemed to work until early September, when cases exploded from less than 1,000 to some 14,300 a month later. Now with more than 140,600 confirmed cases and 3,100 deaths, Myanmar’s fragile health system faces the perfect storm of the pandemic and the coup.

“You could expect the military to take full advantage of COVID-19 as a political opportunity, not as a health care responsibility to the people of Myanmar,” said Ronan Lee, a visiting scholar at Queen Mary University of London’s International State Crime Initiative.

History shows those concerns are not without merit.

In 2000, decades after the former military junta took control, the World Health Organization ranked Myanmar’s health system as one of the worst. According to the World Bank, Myanmar’s health expenditure was around 1.87% of GDP in 2010, the year before democratic reforms began.

In March 2020, Myanmar reported just 0.71 intensive care unit beds and 0.46 ventilators per 100,000 population, which was insufficient to deal with even a moderate outbreak, according to data from the World Bank and WHO.

Donations of medical equipment have since arrived and the government has increased bed capacity with new quarantine centres, clinics and hospitals. But experts cite a lack of medical staff as a continuing problem.

Myanmar’s small health care force had just 6.7 physicians per 10,000 people in 2018, significantly lower than the global average of 15.6 in 2017.

The coup comes just days after Myanmar launched its vaccination campaign with some 1.5 million doses of a two-shot vaccine donated from India. Last week, Suu Kyi observed vaccinations at a hospital in the capital, Naypyitaw, and told reporters that the process must proceed carefully because the government does not have all the supplies it needs.

The military has its own medical corps and medical facilities across the country. But Sharon Bell, a researcher who previously studied the health system in Myanmar, said she doesn’t anticipate the military will have the ability to control outbreaks or conduct sufficient vaccination programs.

The military released a statement saying “prevention of the current outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic will be efficiently carried out with momentum.”

According to Lee, when the military talks about getting the virus under control, it means “locking down the community and preventing opportunities for public expressions of opposition to their rule.”

“I expect they’ll use the pandemic as a shield to defend them from scrutiny,” he said.

___

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Victoria Milko, The Associated Press

Myanmar

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A cross-country skier glides along the banks of the Ottawa River in Ottawa on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. Canadians across the country can look forward to a mild spring peppered with the odd winter flashback throughout the first part of the season, according to predictions from one prominent national forecaster. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Mild spring with some wintry blasts predicted for most of Canada: Weather Network

March will be dramatically warmer through the prairies

Erika Fetterly, owner of EFP Studios, recently launched the Let Them Have A Voice campaign. (Contributed photo)
Central Alberta photographer’s campaign aims to give youths a voice

An Innisfail photographer is giving a platform to young central Albertans so… Continue reading

Chopped Canada-winning chef Pete Sok is trying to focus on the future as he reopens Boulevard Restaurant and Lounge in the Holiday Inn on Gasoline Alley during the pandemic. (Contributed photo)
Red Deer’s celebrity chef looks past the pandemic with new restaurant opportunity

Pete Sok is reopening Boulevard Restaurant — and betting on the future

The Red Deer Rebels hosted the Medicine Hat Tigers in the first game of the shortened 2020-21 season on Friday. The two teams faced off again in Medicine Hat Saturday (Photo by Rob Wallator/ Red Deer Rebels)
Red Deer Rebels fall to Medicine Hat Tigers on Saturday

Tigers 7 Rebels 2 The Red Deer Rebels have lost two straight… Continue reading

Red Deer science-communicating dogs Bunsen and Beaker helped save a missing pet recently. The two dogs have more than 80,000 followers on Twitter. (Contributed photo)
WATCH: Red Deer science dogs help save lost pet

Red Deer science-communicating dogs Bunsen and Beaker helped rescue a missing pet… Continue reading

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney speaks during a news conference in Edmonton on Feb. 24, 2020. It’s budget day in the province, and Kenney’s United Conservative government is promising more help in the fight against COVID, but more red ink on the bottom line. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta Premier slams vandalism after slur painted on MLA’s office window

EDMONTON — Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is condemning alleged vandalism at the… Continue reading

Canada Pension Plan Investment Board President and Chief Executive Officer Mark Machin waits to appear at the Standing Committee on Finance on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa on Tuesday, November 1, 2016. Executives who engage in so-called "vaccine tourism" show both an ethical disregard for those less fortunate and a surprising lack of business acumen, experts argue. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Vaccine tourism is both unethical and bad for business, experts say

Executives who engage in so-called “vaccine tourism” show both an ethical disregard… Continue reading

Edmonton Oilers' Jesse Puljujarvi (13) and Toronto Maple Leafs' Justin Holl (3) battle in front as goalie Jack Campbell (36) makes the save during second period NHL action in Edmonton on Saturday, February 27, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
No Matthews, no problem: Minus NHL goal leader, Maple Leafs blank Oilers 4-0

Leafs 4 Oilers 0 EDMONTON — The Maple Leafs knew even with… Continue reading

Leader of the Government in the House of Commons Pablo Rodriguez rises during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Gummed-up bills in House of Commons: harbinger of a federal election?

OTTAWA — All federal party leaders maintain they don’t want an election… Continue reading

The Pornhub website is shown on a computer screen in Toronto on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS
Pornhub policies reveal legal gaps and lack of enforcement around exploitive videos

OTTAWA — Serena Fleites was in seventh grade when a sexually explicit… Continue reading

Sean Hoskin stands on a neighbourhood street in Halifax on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. Hoskin was diagnosed with COVID-19 almost a year ago with symptoms that still persist. Some provinces have established programs to deal with long-term sufferers but Atlantic Canada, with relatively low numbers of patients, has yet to provide a resource to assist them. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
On East Coast, exhausted COVID-19 ‘long haulers’ hope specialized clinics will emerge

HALIFAX — On evenings when Sean Hoskin collapses into bed, heart pounding… Continue reading

Ottawa Senators goaltender Matt Murray (30) stands in his crease as Calgary Flames left wing Andrew Mangiapane (88), left to right, defenceman Rasmus Andersson (4), Matthew Tkachuk (19), Mikael Backlund (11) and Mark Giordano (5) celebrate a goal during second period NHL action in Ottawa on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Calgary Flames beat Ottawa 6-3 to end Senators’ three-game win streak

Flames 6 Senators 3 OTTAWA — The Calgary Flames used a balanced… Continue reading

Crosses are displayed in memory of the elderly who died from COVID-19 at the Camilla Care Community facility during the COVID-19 pandemic in Mississauga, Ont., on November 19, 2020. The number of people who would have died from a COVID-19 infection is likely to be much higher than recorded because of death certificates don't always list the virus as the cause of a fatality, experts say. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Death certificates don’t accurately reflect the toll of the pandemic, experts say

The number of people who would have died from a COVID-19 infection… Continue reading

Most Read