COVID-19 pandemic fuels assaults on well being employees globally

Two Nigerian nurses have been attacked by the household of a deceased COVID-19 affected person. One nurse had her hair ripped out and suffered a fracture. The second was overwhelmed right into a coma.

Following the assaults, nurses at Federal Medical Centre within the Southwestern metropolis of Owo stopped treating sufferers, demanding the hospital enhance safety. Nearly two weeks handed earlier than they returned to work with armed guards posted across the clock.

“We don’t give life. It’s God that provides life. We solely care or we handle,” mentioned Francis Ajibola, an area chief with the Nationwide Affiliation of Nigeria Nurses and Midwives.

The assault in Nigeria early final month was simply considered one of many on well being employees globally through the COVID-19 pandemic. A new report by the Geneva-based Insecurity Perception and the College of California, Berkeley’s Human Rights Middle recognized greater than 1,100 threats or acts of violence towards well being care employees and services final 12 months.

Researchers discovered that about 400 of these assaults have been associated to COVID-19, many motivated by worry or frustration, underscoring the risks surrounding well being care employees at a time when they’re wanted most. Insecurity Perception defines a well being care assault as any bodily violence towards or intimidation of well being care employees or settings, and makes use of on-line information companies, humanitarian teams and social media posts to trace incidents world wide.

“Our jobs within the emergency division and in hospitals have gotten exponentially extra disturbing and tougher, and that’s at baseline even when individuals are tremendous supportive,” mentioned Rohini Haar, an emergency doctor in Oakland, California, and Human Rights Middle analysis fellow. “To try this work and to do it with dedication whereas being attacked or with the worry of being attacked is heartbreaking to me.”

Medical professionals from surgeons to paramedics have lengthy confronted damage or intimidation on the job, particularly in battle zones. Specialists say many assaults are rooted in worry or distrust, as relations react to a relative’s demise or a group responds to uncertainty round a illness. The coronavirus has amplified these tensions.


Ligia Kantún has labored as a nurse for 40 years in Mexico and by no means felt threatened till final spring. As she was leaving a hospital in Merida in April, she heard somebody shout the phrase “Contaminated!” She was drenched in sizzling espresso earlier than she may flip round.

“Once I acquired residence 10 minutes later my daughter was ready for me and I hugged her crying, all scared, pondering, ‘How is it doable that they’ve performed this to me?’” she instructed The Related Press.

On this June 9, 2020, nonetheless picture from video supplied by nurse Angeles Carrillo Mercado, a person throws sizzling espresso on her and threatens her after she escorted his kids out of a COVID-19 ward as a result of they weren’t carrying masks in San Francisco del Rincón, Mexico.(Angeles Carrillo Mercado by way of AP)

Kantún mentioned many individuals in Mexico on the time thought well being employees wore the identical uniforms in public that they wore when treating coronavirus sufferers. “That ignorance was what made them act that means,” she mentioned.

Researchers noticed probably the most assaults final spring and summer time because the coronavirus swept throughout the globe. But latest occasions from Nigeria to the Netherlands, the place in January rioters set hearth to a coronavirus testing middle, show the menace stays.

Haar mentioned she anticipated well being care employees to be broadly celebrated for his or her lifesaving work through the pandemic, simply as Italians sang tributes to docs through the lockdown.

“However really that didn’t occur in lots of, many locations,” she mentioned. “There’s really extra worry, extra mistrust, and assaults grew quite than decreased.”

Many assaults could have gone undetected as a result of they’re by no means reported to police or within the media. Insecurity Perception scrambled to broaden its monitoring as a flood of assaults have been detected in international locations which have historically been protected for well being employees, mentioned director Christina Wille.

In the USA, for instance, researchers counted a couple of dozen threats to well being care employees final 12 months. A number of incidents concerned the damage or arrest of road medics throughout Black Lives Matter protests.

“I believe within the U.S. the tradition has been extra of trusting well being employees,” Haar, the emergency doctor, mentioned. “There hasn’t been a longstanding battle the place there’s been a dissonance between well being employees and the group.”

But well being employees within the U.S. are nonetheless topic to nice danger. Hospital workers within the U.S. are almost six instances as doubtless as the common employee to be the sufferer of an intentional damage, in keeping with the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and final month a Minnesota medical assistant was killed throughout a capturing at a clinic by a former affected person sad together with his remedy.

Misinformation has spurred violence in some instances. Wille mentioned her group appeared intently at social media postings in April after three Ebola remedy facilities have been ransacked within the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“We may really see that there was a build-up over a number of days of misinformation about what they name the ‘Ebola enterprise,’ that this was all associated to individuals inventing the illness,” she mentioned.

Nurses and supporters in Owo, Nigeria, participate in a march on Feb. 7, 2021, demanding the Federal Medical Centre in Owo provide security for its staff after two nurses were were attacked by the family of a deceased COVID-19 patient.  (Tochukwu Q.O. via AP)

Nurses and supporters in Owo, Nigeria, take part in a march on Feb. 7, 2021, demanding the Federal Medical Centre in Owo present safety for its employees after two nurses have been have been attacked by the household of a deceased COVID-19 affected person.  (Tochukwu Q.O. by way of AP)

Specialists say that despite the fact that well being employees are in lots of instances the goal of assaults, whole communities endure after they lose entry to medical care after a clinic or medical facility is compelled to shut attributable to threats.

“You’re robbing the group of the service they’d have supplied,” mentioned Nyka Alexander, who leads the World Well being Group’s communications on well being emergencies.

With or with no pandemic, probably the most harmful locations for well being employees are sometimes areas of battle and political upheaval. Final 12 months, lots of of threats and acts of violence have been tracked in Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen and the Democratic Republic of Congo.


Naser Almhawish, surveillance coordinator for Syria’s Early Warning Alert and Response Community, mentioned he confronted threats a number of instances whereas working as a physician within the metropolis of Raqqa. He recalled the day in 2012 at Ar-Raqqa Nationwide Hospital when armed males confronted him in the midst of an operation, saying they’d kill him if the affected person died.

“You simply freeze and you understand that you’re working and you are attempting to avoid wasting this man,” he mentioned. “That is our obligation. I didn’t ask if this man was a army, civilian or something. He’s a human being who wanted an operation.”

Almhawish mentioned such assaults on well being care settings in Syria had waned within the final 12 months. Researchers mentioned declining violence within the nation was the explanation they didn’t see a better surge in complete well being care assaults in 2020.

Kantún, the nurse in Mexico, mentioned she went virtually eight months after the assault final April with out carrying her nursing scrubs in public. Now, one 12 months into the pandemic, she feels well being employees are extra revered. However she nonetheless worries.

“I’ve had that worry of going out and discovering my automobile scratched, or my automobile window damaged,” she mentioned. “I do have that worry, since I lived it.”

FILE - In this Jan. 24, 2021, file photo, a police officer takes pictures of a burned-out coronavirus testing facility in the fishing village of Urk in the Netherlands after it was set on fire the night before by rioting youths protesting on the first night of a nationwide curfew. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong, File)

FILE – On this Jan. 24, 2021, file photograph, a police officer takes photos of a burned-out coronavirus testing facility within the fishing village of Urk within the Netherlands after it was set on hearth the night time earlier than by rioting youths protesting on the primary night time of a nationwide curfew. (AP Picture/Peter Dejong, File)

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