ResourcesPress Release

PHR Condemns Myanmar Military’s Arrest of Former Head of COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) condemns the arrest of senior members of Myanmar’s health sector leadership by the military junta, and calls for their immediate, safe, and unconditional release. 

Junta forces arrested Dr. Htar Htar Lin, former Director and Program Manager of Myanmar’s Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI), who led the country’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout. She was detained on Thursday, June 10 in Yangon along with several companions, including her husband and her seven-year-old son. Her arrest – which comes several months after her open letter announcing her departure and speculating on the junta’s intentions to reappropriate the COVID-19 funds – has sent shockwaves through the Myanmar medical community. 

Dr. Htar Htar Lin is the second high-profile health official to be charged and placed in detention, after Dr. Maw Maw Oo, Head of Emergency Medicine at the University of Medicine (1), Yangon, who was arrested on April 12, 2021. The arrests have occurred in the context of widespread violations of human rights including hundreds of killings and suppression of dissent inflicted by the Myanmar military, known as the Tatmadaw, which seized control of the country in a February 1 coup. 

Having served as the focal point for Myanmar’s COVID-19 vaccine procurement and rollout plan in collaboration with the Serum Institute of India and the World Health Organization’s (WHO) COVAX initiative, Dr. Htar Htar Lin was accused by the military of corruption, misuse of public funds, and for incitement of anti-junta sentiment.

“Dr. Htar Htar Lin’s arbitrary arrest is yet another sign that the military junta will stop at nothing in its war against Myanmar’s health workers – even the professional leading the country’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout is not safe,” said Jennifer Leigh, an epidemiologist serving as PHR Myanmar Researcher. “Dr. Htar Htar Lin has been falsely accused of corruption by the Myanmar military for her participation in the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM), which is protesting the junta’s take-over and atrocities against civilians. Instead of staving off a second wave of COVID-19 and ensuring that Myanmar residents receive vaccines, the military is instead targeting the country’s immunization officials and even their children.”

“Myanmar’s COVID-19 response and vaccine rollout have all but collapsed due to the military’s egregious attacks on health workers and facilities across the country. The human rights emergency of the coup is morphing into a public health disaster,” said Sandra Mon, PHR expert and epidemiologist from Myanmar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Public Health and Human Rights (CPHHR). “While disease containment and surveillance capacities have plummeted due to the military’s degradation of the health system, anecdotal reports suggest that COVID-19 cases are rising and that few people in the country are receiving life-saving vaccines and protections.”

“The arrests of Myanmar’s health leaders, many of whom inspired the original wave of the CDM among the nation’s medics, has caused widespread distress among health workers continuing to serve on the frontlines,” said Mon. “Morale is crumbling. The Tatmadaw is closing in on all aspects of health in Myanmar, from the provision of routine care, to the delivery of essential medical supplies to humanitarian crisis areas, to the COVID-19 public health response.” 

“Dr. Htar Htar Lin’s arrest comes as yet another blow to a medical community that is already facing unprecedented mental and physical exhaustion,” said Mon. “Those close to Dr. Htar Htar Lin are imploring international health colleagues to call for her – and others’ – release.” 

 “The international community must send a clear message to the Myanmar military that it cannot target and arrest health professionals – from the medics caring for injured protestors to the officials leading the country’s COVID-19 response – and simply get away with it,” said Leigh. 

Physicians for Human Rights joins Myanmar’s medical community in calling for an end to the deliberate attacks against health care in Myanmar, and for the release of all those detained for the peaceful exercise of their human rights.

Since the onset of the coup, PHR and its partners have documented and called attention to the Myanmar military’s violence against health workers and civilians. Additional resources include:

  • Research brief: At Least 178 Reported Attacks and Threats to Health Care in Myanmar Three Months of Military’s Crackdown (May 25)
  • Press release: PHR Condemns the Mass Atrocities and Escalating Violence against Civilians in Mindat, Chin State, Myanmar, Calls for International Response (May 20)
  • Report, Map, and Press release: More Than 4000 Attacks Against Health Workers, Facilities, and Transports Since 2016 Underscore Need for Action to Protect Health Care in Conflict – Safeguarding Health in Conflict Coalition (May 5)
  • Research Brief and Press release: At Least 109 Reported Attacks and Threats to Health Care in Myanmar Over Just Two Months of Military’s Crackdown (April 23) 
  • Press release: Wave of New Warrants, Arrests, and Attacks on Myanmar Health Workers Must Stop (April 20)
  • Open Letter: Open Letter to Secretary of State Blinken on the Public Health and Human Rights Crisis in Myanmar (April 7)
  • Press release: Myanmar Military Targets Doctors and Besieges Civilians in Deadliest Day of Crackdown to Date (March 27)
  • Press release: Myanmar Military Must Cease Occupation of Hospitals and Excessive Force Against Civilians (March 7)
  • Press release: Myanmar Military Must End Excessive Use of Force against Protestors, Detention of Health Care Workers (Feb 18)
  • Press Release: Myanmar Military Must End Crackdown and Release Prisoners (Feb 1)

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

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