Doctors risk lives to treat injured in Myanmar coup protests | Health Info
Aye Nyein Thu completed medical school in Mandalay, central Myanmar, less than a year before the military seized power in a coup February 1.
Today, the 25-year-old is providing emergency medical assistance as state forces crack down on mass protests.
“Most [victims] was injured in the head because the police use batons to beat the demonstrators. Some people have also been shot, “said Aye Nyein Thu, who estimated to have responded to 10 emergencies by March 1.” We are facing the most terrible situation. “
Since the military arrested civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and more than 40 elected officials and declared a one-year state of emergency, millions of people have taken to the streets across the country, while around three quarters of the civil servants are said to have continued to strike as part of a national movement of civil disobedience.
With the protests showing little sign of abating, authorities have turned increasingly to force.
They fired live and rubber bullets, deployed water cannons, and used tear gas and stun grenades at the crowd. The crackdown has so far killed around 30 people and injured at least 200 others, according to the Association for Assistance to Political Prisoners (AAPP), a monitoring group. At least 18 people lost their lives February 28, a day that protesters have now dubbed “Bloody Sunday”.
The civil disobedience movement has hampered the official health care system across the country – an official at Yangon General Hospital told Radio Free Asia on February 9 that as many as 80 percent of government hospitals have closed.
To meet the medical needs of the public, healthcare providers now offer services voluntarily outside government facilities, but increasingly violent crackdowns mean many healthcare workers risk their own lives to provide life-saving treatment to those who join the protests.
“The biggest challenge is not getting shot when we are helping out in the field,” said Ze Nan *, a volunteer nurse in Kachin state capital Myitkyina. “Bullets can hit us too; we can also die at any time.
In Mandalay, which has seen some of the worst violence since the coup, Aye Nyein Thu is part of a team of around 30 volunteer health workers providing emergency response across the city. She walked among the protesters with a backpack containing basic supplies to stop the bleeding and disinfect the wounds.
So far, she has provided emergency first aid to around 10 people and organized a volunteer ambulance service to transport the victims to a clinic, also run by volunteers, for further treatment.
Attacked medical team
His group is part of at least six medical teams that run mobile or stationary health services across the city, according to Kaung Khant Tin, a doctor who volunteers with another medical team, which focuses on primary care.
He said only one team has the facilities and human resources to provide stitches and intensive care to those seriously injured, while road closures imposed by the military have hampered emergency response.
On the morning of February 28, state forces fired at medical support cars, injuring a volunteer from the team dealing with the most serious cases, a local reporter familiar with the situation told Al Jazeera. The team has since ceased operations. “If the violence continues, we don’t know where to send our patients,” Kaung Khant Tin said.
In the capital of Kachin state, Myitkyina, around 100 striking government nurses provide first aid and basic services through mobile teams and run a referral network to ambulances and volunteer doctors. .
Ze Nan, leads a nursing team of around 40 volunteers, who march with the protesters – wearing white bracelets and stickers so they are easily identifiable – and are followed by motorcycles carrying medical kits.
On February 28, as the number of protesters increased, Ze Nan’s group bought their own phones and SIM cards and began distributing brochures around the city with their emergency contact information. Within hours, the team was treating head injuries caused by police beatings with batons.
Along with the three other first responders interviewed by Al Jazeera, Ze Nan expressed concern about the high risk of physical danger. “They don’t discriminate when they shoot people. We can be shot whether we wear our badges or not, ”she said. “Any protesters can be injured or killed at any time, including me.”
Pyae Zaw Hein, who heads a volunteer ambulance and a team of first responders in the southern town of Dawei, also fears he and his team members may be caught in the crossfire. With a reserve of five vehicles, they maintain contact with the various groups of medical volunteers to transport patients to the city’s facilities where they can receive treatment.
On February 28, authorities shot dead and killed three protesters in the city, and one person remains in critical condition. Paye Zaw Hein and his group continued to work, but said they faced a minefield of dangers and dilemmas, including whether to respond to emergencies overnight when the military imposed a cover -fire nationwide.
“We don’t know how to keep doing our job. If there is an emergency at night, we are so confused as to whether we should go out to help or not, ”he said.
In the capital of Mon state, Mawlamyine, Nai Aung *, a doctor in private practice, helped set up a makeshift health facility as strikes resumed the week after the coup.
But within days, he and other participating volunteers learned that authorities had obtained a list of their names and were monitoring their movements and activities. Volunteers immediately shut down the facility and began moving from location to location, providing services at abandoned medical facilities across the city, while volunteer ambulances began to circulate between protests and communities. temporary clinics.
“We are satisfied with all the necessary facilities and equipment. The only difficulty is our security. We could not find a basis to treat the patients. If we could build a base, [authorities] could destroy it at any time, ”Nai Aung said.
He also fears being arrested at his home at night or arrested during the day. “We cannot treat patients publicly; we have to move and hide. There is no guarantee for our safety as our names have been leaked and we are being watched by the police.
On February 28, authorities began firing live ammunition in the town, killing a 21-year-old man. As of March 1, Nai Aung estimated that his team had treated around 50 patients injured during the protests, including two police officers.
“We treat everyone without hard feelings or personal biases,” he said.
However, without access to proper medical facilities, Nai Aung says his team cannot respond effectively to patients with head or neck injuries and is currently trying to coordinate referrals to hospitals in Yangon.
The crackdown on protesters began to escalate in Yangon on February 25, and on February 28, Yangon General Hospital, which had been closed since February 8 due to continued strikes, announced it had opened. his emergency service “by necessity” to treat the wounded. .
Doctors at the hospital treated 16 people, most of them with gunshot wounds, that day, while three people were pronounced dead on arrival.
In Mandalay, Dr Kaung Khant Tin said he plans to continue providing medical services regardless of the circumstances.
“We don’t feel safe when treating patients. We worry about when [authorities] could threaten us or a gun may be pointed at us, ”he said. “Although the police are getting more and more violent, we always go to demonstration sites with the mentality that we have to treat patients no matter what.”
“The fight is not over yet. The demonstrations will continue and we will always support the demonstrators with the medical knowledge that we have ”, he added.
“I have never seen a unit like this before. With this unity we will definitely win. “
* Nai Aung and Ze Nan are pseudonyms for those who did not feel safe talking to Al Jazeera using their real names due to military targeting of those who voice their dissent. All other interviewees requested that their real names be used.