The junta’s health ministry has fired 557 government-employed doctors who quit their jobs to protest the military rule and revoked their licenses at a time when medical workers are in short supply, sources in the country’s medical community said on Tuesday, citing an official list.
The striking doctors joined other government employees in what they called a nationwide “civil disobedience movement,” or CDM, and refused to do their jobs to oppose the military government that took power in February 2021.
A doctor who has gone into hiding for more than a year after the junta issued an arrest warrant for her for “instigating” told RFA that she and others on the list have no intention of continuing their commitment to anti-coup to end movement. regardless of the suspension of their licenses.
“We knew the junta would take that step,” she said, adding that she only found out about her suspension after being briefed by a medical colleague. “Having my license revoked will not make things worse for me now and it will not change my attitude.”
The first group of doctors to join the civil disobedience movement did so in Mandalay the day after the coup, garnering such a large following that the junta-run hospitals and clinics could no longer function. The movement had such an impact that it was listed by the Nobel Prize Committee as a candidate for the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize.
However, news of the layoffs comes amid a doctor shortage in the country stemming from participants in the movement and weighed down by COVID-19 and widespread conflict.
That has prompted the junta to relax requirements for applying to medical school this year.
As part of the layoffs, the junta-controlled Myanmar Medical Council began issuing one-year suspensions of medical licenses, known as the Sa-Ma certificate, starting in February — a year after the Feb. 1, 2021 coup, sources told RFA’s Burmese service .
A doctor who joined the CDM movement told RFA that while the suspensions began almost nine months ago, there had been no public announcement and the doctors concerned only found out about the postponement after the list of names went viral on social media had become.
“They are gradually withdrawing doctors’ license to practice medicine. Sometimes they revoke 20 [at a time]sometimes 25. But the lists came out sporadically and most of those doctors were unaware of the change,” said the doctor, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
“Many of them are still treating and walking [private] clinics. They were all surprised to hear the news because the Ministry never notified them.”
Of the roughly 60,000 doctors who have joined the movement since the coup, about 45,000 remain, according to a group called the CDM Medical Network.
The Department of Health said it suspended the licenses of 14 doctors in February, 50 in March, 41 in April, 66 in May, 60 in June, 61 in July, 80 in August, 87 in September and 98 in October – the The list included several experienced medical professionals.
Orientation towards “people and their profession”
The hidden doctor admitted those on the list were “in trouble” after the junta also distributed them to private hospitals and clinics and began conducting impromptu inspections.
RFA requests to Myat Wunna Soe, the junta’s health ministry director-general, for comment on the suspensions were forwarded to the Myanmar Medical Council, but calls to the council went unanswered on Tuesday.
A document circulated internally at the Medical Council – of which RFA received a copy – says the doctors were suspended for violating Article 45(D) of the Myanmar Medical Council Act, citing “failure to comply with the Code of Medical ethics” and “patient abandonment”.
However, a civil disobedience doctor, who gave her name as Olivia, noted that the suspension of medical practitioner licenses because of her political beliefs affects both doctors and their patients.
“The suspension also seriously impacts the well-being of their patients and their family members… It impacts both people and their profession,” she said.
Medical students mourn as others give the three-fingered salute at the funeral of a medical student who was shot in the chest by junta security forces two days earlier during a protest against the military takeover in Yangon in this March 16, 2021 file photo. Burma. Photo credit: AP Photo
Reduced application requirements
Amid the layoffs of CDM doctors, the junta lowered requirements for medical school applicants in 2022, citing the need to fill the gap left by large numbers of doctors joining the anti-coup movement Has.
A second-year medical student who dropped out of school to protest the coup told RFA that it takes several years to become a doctor and questioned the junta’s plan to replace civil disobedience doctors by offering applicants a shortcut.
“They’re trying to show that we’re expendable and that they can easily replace us… with new people who submit to their rule,” said the medical student, who also declined to be named.
But he indicated that few of the applicants would be willing to provide care in Myanmar’s remote regions, while in urban areas where many doctors practice, patients simply “flock to a handful of highly qualified doctors”.
Lwan Wai, a doctor from a branch of the movement known as the Yangon Medical Network, said the suspension of nearly 600 doctors is amid the number of medical workers already unable to meet demand in Myanmar. will have a serious impact on access to health care in Myanmar the country.
“The ratio of medical workers to patients is already lopsided,” he said, noting that armed conflict casualties have skyrocketed in recent months while people are still dying from COVID-19 and other diseases.
“This decision will benefit no one. The patients become more hopeless. I assume that many people will die because they could not receive medical treatment in time and it will mainly be the patients who will pay the price.”
In addition to suspending the licenses of doctors in the civil disobedience movement, the junta has also targeted medical workers in the movement in other ways. According to figures released in May by surveillance group ReliefWeb, the junta has arrested at least 564 medics and killed at least 36 others since the coup.
Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written by Joshua Lipes.