Health workers attacked during coronavirus pandemic


MEXICO CITY – The a primary nurse broadcast a call on national television on behalf of her fellow health care workers: Please stop attacking us.

Nurses working under his auspices have been brutally attacked across Mexico at least 21 times, accused of spreading the coronavirus. Many no longer wore their uniforms when they commuted to or from work for fear of injury, said the official, Fabiana Zepeda Arias, director of nursing programs at the Mexican Social Security Institute.

“We can save your life,” she said, addressing the attackers. “Please help us take care of you, and for that we need you to take care of us.”

In many cities, doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers were celebrated with chorus of applause and cheers from windows and roofs for providing a front line defense against the pandemic.

But in some places, health workers, stigmatized as vectors of contagion because of their work, have been attacked, ill-treated and ostracized.

In the Philippines, assailants sprayed a nurse with bleach, blinding her. In India, a group of medical workers was chased by a crowd throwing stones. In Pakistan, a nurse and her children were evicted from their building.

Dozens of attacks against healthcare professionals have been reported in Mexico, where intense epidemics among hospital staff of Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, have angered residents and members of the medical community. Dozens of doctors and nurses fell ill in several hospitals across the country, and many protests broke out among health workers complaining of inadequate protective equipment.

Nurses in Jalisco state said they were blocked from public transportation due to their occupation. A nurse from Culiacán, the capital of northwest Mexico’s Sinaloa state, said she was soaked in chlorine while walking down the street.

In Merida, a town on the Yucatán peninsula, a nurse said he was hit by an egg thrown by someone passing by on a motorcycle.

Zepeda Arias, who spoke at a press conference last week, said that 21 of her nurses at the Social Security Institute had been attacked in the past month.

“It hurts to talk about it, it hurts to talk about what is happening to your people,” she said, shedding tears. “Aggression is not something anyone wants. We really invite you to respect us. ”

The attacks on medical workers appear to be rooted in fear and ignorance fueled by misinformation, said Edith Mujica Chávez, chair of the Inter-Institutional Commission of Nurses in Jalisco State.

“It is understandable, given the magnitude of the uncertainty and misinformation,” she said in an interview. “Some people panic and lock themselves in their houses, others think that nothing will happen to them and will circulate without worries, and others will think that it is the nurses and the doctors who will spread the virus because we are in contact with the patients.”

Mexico has progressed more slowly than other countries in the region to demand social distancing and encourage people to stay at home, and the number of cases of coronavirus has increased sharply in recent weeks. Government officials reported 14,677 confirmed cases nationwide and 1,351 deaths on Sunday evening.

Authorities said the confirmed cases involved more than 500 health workers.

Mexican authorities condemned the attack on doctors and nurses and called the episodes isolated.

Friday evening, during a press conference, Dr Hugo López-Gatell, Deputy Minister of Health, described the attacks and the discrimination against the medical teams working to ensure the security of the country “extremely worrying, absolutely unacceptable” .

“It is all inexplicable to some extent, it is surprising,” he said. “Specifically, the people who have the best opportunity and best intention to help – the health workers who are on the front line – are attacked because they are health workers.”

Scattered reports of hostility have circulated around the world.

In the Philippines, a nurse from the southern province of Sultan Kudarat was attacked by five men who believed he was infected with the virus as a result of his work. They poured bleach on her face, leaving her what her doctors said was permanent vision damage.

In a televised speech this month, the country’s president, Rodrigo Duterte, warned that those who discriminate against healthcare workers will be treated quickly.

“I want to order the police to arrest anyone who harasses them,” he said. “Once in prison, don’t feed them. Let them starve. ”

In India, health workers reported being physically assaulted, spat and threatened with sexual violence for treating patients with coronavirus.

Doctors in protective clothing were chased by a crowd throwing stones earlier this month in the central city of Indore after trying to screen a woman for Covid-19.

“They shouted, ‘Catch them! Hit them! “” One of the doctors, Zakia Sayed, recalled in an interview with India Today, a TV channel. “We don’t know how and why the situation got so bad. “

Reports that healthcare workers have been blocked from their homes by fearful neighbors – or evicted by landlords – have proliferated in several countries.

Ghazala Bhatti, a nurse in Karachi, Pakistan, and mother of three, said her owner asked her to leave her apartment for fear that she would infect others in the building after treating Covid patients -19.

“The owner told me that he was concerned for the health of his 72-year-old father battling cancer, who also lives on the first floor of the building,” said Ms. Bhatti, who moved in with her brother because she was unable to find accommodation to rent with the city locked out.

Dr. Sanjibani Panigrahi, who works at a hospital in the Indian city of Surat, said neighbors had tried to stop her from entering her building, telling her that she should be “kicked out of society”.

“I don’t know how long I can stay here,” she said in an interview. “There is so much panic and hysteria right now. Being a doctor has become a stigma. “

The reports were provided by Paulina Villegas from Mexico, Jason Gutierrez from Manila, Zia Ur Rehman from Karachi, Pakistan and Kai Schultz from New Delhi.


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