Mexico City: One-third out of almost 1,200 attacks on health workers globally last year were related to COVID-19, a coalition of healthcare experts said on Tuesday, with staff being beaten and doused with hot coffee by people fearful of coronavirus infection.
India had the highest number of coronavirus-related attacks, with 128 out of the 412 incidents, carried out mainly by protesters, patients and their relatives, and police, data from the Safeguarding Health in Conflict Coalition (SHCC) showed.
“As we enter the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, we must learn from the failures of year one and act immediately to safeguard health workers,” said Leonard Rubenstein, founder of the SHCC, made up of 40 health worker and charity groups.
Mexico had the second highest number of threats or attacks – 49 – with nurses told to get off a bus by other passengers, health workers being beaten while tracing contacts of people infected with COVID-19 and a trainee doctor sprayed with bleach.
Mexico and India are among the countries hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic, which has caused 2.5 million deaths worldwide and some 115 million infections, as nations race to procure vaccines and detect new COVID-19 variants.
SHCC said other incidents – presented on an interactive online map – were related to opposition to public health measures, like testing and social distancing, and people not wanting hospitals to be used to treat COVID-19 patients.
Fake news has helped fuel assaults on frontline workers, with some members of the public mistrusting medical treatments or official information about the virus, aid agencies have said.
After reports of attacks last year, the United Nations in Mexico called for respect for health personnel, highlighting the role of women in the sector.
Rubenstein said healthcare inequality had also helped fuel mistrust that can lead to violence, and that any solutions had to work on multiple levels. “We must address the structural issues, whether its deprivation of the rights of women or inequitable access to healthcare,” he said.
The true number of attacks on health workers in 2020 was likely higher than the total of 1,172 reported, said the groups involved in producing the map, which also included Insecurity Insight, a Geneva-based non-profit.
“Violence is absolutely unacceptable and it hurts everyone,” Erica Burton, a senior advisor to the International Council of Nurses, which is a member of SHCC’s steering committee, said at a webinar to launch the map.