Thousands of HIV and tuberculosis patients in southern Myanmar are facing serious health risks, the global aid group Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières or MSF) has warned after the country’s military junta told it to “suspend all activities” in the region.
MSF said on Wednesday that it had received a letter from military officials asking the group to stop its work in the southeastern area of Dawei, where it has provided healthcare to the poor for more than two decades, the BBC is reporting.
In response, the group released a statement warning that “suspending MSF’s activities could be life-threatening for many of our patients at a time when public services remain severely disrupted”.
MSF said it had reached out to regional officials in an attempt to “understand” the reasoning for their decision, which, if followed, would prevent the group from treating more than 2,000 people in the area who are living with HIV.
Almost all public medical facilities across Myanmar have been closed in the wake of the Feb 1 coup, after doctors and other health officials took part in the ongoing civil strike opposing the military takeover.
Dawei is the hometown of the Myanmar military’s leader, Min Aung Hlaing. The area has seen protests almost every day since democratically elected civilian leaders were detained and security forces sought to gain control.
The order for MSF to suspend its work comes despite a meeting between the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Peter Maurer, and Hlaing on June 3.
Maurer had requested that security officials give broader access for humanitarian aid in the worst-affected parts of the country.
Since the coup, more than 800 people have died in clashes between the Myanmar military and pro-democracy protesters, with many more detained for their role in the demonstrations that have brought chaos throughout the country.
MSF is best known for its projects in conflict zones and in countries affected by endemic diseases. In 2019, the group was active in 70 countries with over 35,000 personnel mostly local doctors, nurses and other medical professionals, logistical experts, water and sanitation engineers and administrators.
Private donors provide about 90% of the organisation’s funding, while corporate donations provide the rest, giving MSF an annual budget of approximately US$1.63 billion.