Health workers faced thousands of threats, violence amid pandemic: report

As health workers across the globe have battled the spread of COVID-19 on the front lines, a new report released this week recorded more than 1,000 attacks and threats of violence against them in 2020. 

The study, conducted by the Geneva-based Insecurity Insight and the University of California, Berkeley’s Human Rights Center, found that between January and December 2020, there were more than 1,100 attacks and threats globally against medical personnel, patients, health care facilities and medical transport workers. 

The groups mapped out the incidents in an online interactive “Atlas of Attacks” based on reports from local news agencies, nongovernmental organizations, civil society organizations and content shared on platforms such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. 

Out of these attacks, researchers found that at least 400 were related in some way to COVID-19, including out of fear or frustration over the deaths, health restrictions and other conditions spurred by the pandemic. 

In India alone, more than 150 incidents were reported, a large portion of which involved violence against health workers and their families. 

Before the pandemic reached the country, the researchers wrote that reports cited fears of health workers spreading the infection. Once the virus hit and death rates increased, health workers were targeted by people who were not pleased with the level of care given to their family members. 

In one incident on Sept. 13, people in the Kalmee Kakarda community in Sheopur district, Madhya Pradesh state, chased an ambulance carrying a suspected COVID-19 patient. Video of the incident showed people carrying sticks and throwing stones at the vehicle.  

In Nigeria, two nurses were attacked by the family members of a patient who had died from COVID-19. According to The Associated Press, one of the nurses had her hair ripped out, while the other was beaten into a coma. 

Health workers in the U.S., beyond the stress and demands of battling the deadly virus, have also faced threats in connection with the pandemic. 

Researchers tracked about a dozen threats to U.S. health workers in 2020, including injuries and arrests of street medics during Black Lives Matter protests. 

Rohini Haar, an emergency physician in Oakland, Calif., and a Human Rights Center research fellow, told the AP on Tuesday, “Our jobs in the emergency department and in hospitals have gotten exponentially more stressful and harder, and that’s at baseline even when people are super supportive.” 

“To do that work and to do it with commitment while being attacked or with the fear of being attacked is heartbreaking to me,” Haar added. 

Insecurity Insight Director Christina Wille told the AP that many attacks against health workers around the world may not be included in the report’s final numbers, as they may not have been reported to the police or covered by news outlets.

Tags Black Lives Matter coronavirus pandemic doctors frontline workers Global Threats health workers hospitals India Nigeria nurses Oakland The Associated Press United States University of California-Berkeley

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