Pictures of the trail of destruction circulated widely on social media posts – rolls of bandages, needle packs, gloves and medicine boxes scattered and dirtied on the floor. Filing cupboards forced open and broken. The photos showing the wreckage were taken at the Phalan Taung (Phwa Gaw) Health Centre in Hpa-an Township of the Karen National Union’s Doo Tha Htu District. The Health Centre, the only available medical service in the area, was raided by the Burma Army and its militia, the Border Guard Force (BGF) on November, 16, 2021.
The Phalan Taung (Phwa Gaw) Health Center served villagers in the areas who did not have access to medical services from hospitals in nearby towns, this was especially so after the military took power in its coup and many health workers responded and took part in Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) opposing the military’s rule.
Phalan Taung Health Centre was operated by the elected government before the coup. Many health workers from the Health Center joined the CDM movement and the delivery of healthcare stopped until local Karen National Union officials and CDM doctors and health workers responded to the health needs of villagers and reopened the Centre.
The Phalan Taung Health Centre was providing medical services to the local villagers in the area when the Burma Army ransacked it.
The re-opening of the Health Centre didn’t last long. As armed conflicts intensified in the KNU’s Doo Tha Htu District, the Phalan Taung Health Centre became a target for attacks by the Burma Army and its militia, the BGF.
Padoh Soe Myint, the KNU’s secretary of its Doo Tha Htu District explained to Karen News the Burma Army’s thrashing and wanton vandalism of the health centre.
“They went to the [Phanlan Taung] Health Center and destroyed it around 2pm. They used hammers and smashed it. The Burma Army and the BGF stormed the health centre, they destroyed all the medicines, other medical equipment and supplies and even the motorbikes inside the health centre.”
Saw Win Kyaw, director of the Back Pack Health Worker Team (BPHWT), a local mobile healthcare provider who had provided medical supplies to the Phalan Taung Health Centre said that the health centre was a much needed and critically important service providing healthcare services in the area.
“The Phalan Taung Health Centre is vital. It serves populations in the whole Hpa-an Township of Doo Tha Htu District. It delivers medical care to hundreds of thousands of villagers.”
Saw Win Kyaw said the destruction of the health centre would have a huge impact on villagers who needed hospital admission.
“Patients who need hospitalized care used to be admitted to this health centre. Emergency delivery and Caesarean delivery was also performed. Now that it was destroyed, patients will have nowhere to go. It is not easy to arrange a referral to hospitals in towns after the military coup.”
Phalang Taung Health Centre is not the first to be attacked and destroyed by the Burma Army. A report released by the Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), and Johns Hopkins University Center for Public Health and Human Rights (CPHHR) found, “at least 252 attacks and threats against health workers, facilities, and transports have been perpetrated in Myanmar from February 1 to July 31, 2021.”
The PHR and CPHHR’s report detailed the military’s attacks on health facilities and workers; “90 health workers arrested, 37 health workers injured, 25 health workers killed, hospitals raided at least 86 times, hospitals occupied at least 55 times and 17 incidents impacting COVID-19 response measures.”
Saw Win Kyaw said the destruction of the health centre means BPHWT mobile medical teams will need to increase their efforts in providing healthcare for villagers in the area.
“We have our mobile medical teams operating in the areas, so our teams will need to set a wider area to target to cover more of the population who now can no longer receive healthcare from the destroyed health centre.”
Saw Win Kyaw said the destruction of the health facility by the Burma Army and BGF troops is a clear human right violation.
“Anyone with the right state of mind would not do such a thing – targeting health facilities that are beneficial for the public? This is a crude and vulgar act. They don’t care about sick people, they only care about their power and their control over the people.”