The RCGP Myanmar Volunteers have been actively working with Myanmar since 2013 to improve the quality of Myanmar General Practice initially through running workshops on quality improvement and presentation at the Annual Myanmar GP conference.
In 2018 we ran a one year Quality improvement Project involving 60 GP Practices in Myanmar funded by UKAID.
Although funding was continued in 2020 to extend our project, we were unable to visit Myanmar due to the Covid pandemic. The project pivoted to provide remote training via Zoom to the Myanmar GPs.
On 1 February a military junta seized power in Myanmar, deposing the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. Since then, there have been widespread protests and civil disobedience. The military have used extreme force, shooting and killing not just demonstrators but also health workers attending to injured protesters. There have been over 750 deaths, many of them children.
State hospitals have ceased to function as health professionals have joined the protests, resulting in the near collapse of the health care system in Myanmar. Myanmar GPs have stepped up to provide care for the patients in their own clinics or volunteering to work in Charity Clinics including providing care to injured demonstrators.
Since the coup, RCGP volunteers have been meeting GPs from Myanmar remotely every two weeks to continue to provide support. The group is working with Tropical Health Education Trust (THET) to provide educational and practical support to the doctors.
Many of the GPs are now treating injuries from bullet wounds from rubber bullets which requires new skills, and we have teamed up with World Extreme Medicine to provide webinars on managing gunshot wounds and traumatic injuries.
Highly visible during their white-coated protests, health professionals, including GPs working in charity clinics have been targeted by security forces. They have been beaten, arrested without charge, and summarily dismissed from their jobs. They have also been targeted for providing emergency healthcare to injured demonstrators.
Medical obligations to treat the sick, including those injured during protest, are protected by principles of medical neutrality.
Medical colleagues in Myanmar including GPs want us, not just to hear their stories and provide remote clinical guidance, but also be their advocates and condemn these violations of medical neutrality.
To this end we have produced a statement condemning the violation of medical neutrality which has been adopted by the Academy of Royal Medical Colleges and the British Medical Association.
Another way to keep the Myanmar GPs and other health care staff safe, is to keep their story alive and high on the agenda of the medical community and the media in the UK.
We have published articles in the BMJ, BJGP and the Guardian, interviews on the BBC, to highlight the dangers faced by health care workers in Myanmar as they go about their daily work.
We are also aware that the Myanmar population are unable to access government hospital care at present and they are having to depend on private GP clinics and charity clinics. Investigations such as x-rays and blood tests that would normally be free of charge for patients are having to be paid for either by the patient or subsidised by the charity clinics.
The RCGP Volunteers that include Myanmar Diaspora GPs as well, together with their friends and colleagues, have raised funds to support ongoing health care in Myanmar. In addition, we are exploring other funding streams through FCDO/ UK Aid or other international donors such as UNOPS.
About the writer
Dr Sonny Aung, RCGP Myanmar Volunteer Group