Health workers worldwide face pandemic-related violence: Safeguarding Health in Conflict report

By: Thomas I. Likness
EBC News Service

(Eagle News) — Pandemic-related violence accounted for one-third of the attacks on health care workers, facilities and transport around the world last year, according to a new report by the Safeguarding Healthcare in Conflict coalition.

“Health workers have been rightfully praised as heroes during the COVID-19 pandemic, but around the world they endured disturbing levels of threats and violence from individuals but also from governments, militias, and police,” said Christina Wille, director of Insecurity Insight, which led development of an interactive map highlighting the attacks.

Of the 1,172 attacks highlighted on the map, 412 were related to the pandemic. Another 802 were related to ongoing war and conflicts.

The attacks included targeting health care workers on their way home from clinics, violent responses to masking requirements and setting fires in Covid-19 testing facilities.

Five motives for attacks

The coalition said five issues motivated the attacks.

“During the pandemic, nurses, doctors, and other health workers were threatened, beaten, assailed with stones or hot liquids, or fired from their jobs for voicing concerns about safety,” said Wille.

People destroyed clinics and quarantine centers because the objected to them being used to trat Covid-19 patients.

They also objected to medical measures such as testing as well as changes in funeral regulations or burial locations for Covid-19 victims.

A third motive was objections to public health restrictions.

Some health care workers found themselves arrested or assaulted by security forces for voicing concerns about their work. Others were punished or fired for speaking out about the lack of personal protective equipment or government responses to the pandemic.

And some were attacked on their way to and from work by people afraid that health care workers would spread the infection in their communities.

The most frequent trigger for violence was public health restrictions.

Of the reported attacks related to COVID-19 health measures, 83% were carried out by civilians like local community members, COVID-19 patients, and patient family members, said the coalition.

Problem is worldwide

Although there were areas where the attacks were concentrated, the problem is worldwide.

“Hotspots for Covid-19-triggered violence included India and Mexico, but the map shows that violence and intimidation against health care was a truly global crisis in 2020, affecting 79 countries,” said Wille.

The coalition says the incidents it highlighted are likely only a fraction of what took place, adding the map represents a minimum estimate of threats and attacks against health workers in 2020.

Not all attacks on health are publicly reported by media, documented by non-governmental organizations, or acknowledged by governments, said the coalition in its report.

It called on governments to act immediately to safeguard health workers.

“Governments should do all they can to counter disinformation about the pandemic, better engage communities in the response, end repression against health workers who speak out, and implement measures to protect health workers, while ensuring that perpetrators are held accountable,” said Leonard Rubenstein, founder and chair of the coalition.

Under siege

“In a year when health systems were already under siege from the coronavirus, it was a profound injustice that those frontline workers who have saved countless lives had their own lives endangered,” said Susannah Sirkin, of Physicians for Human Rights, a member of the coalition.

The Safeguarding Health in Conflict coalition is a group of international nongovernmental organizations working to protect health workers, services, and infrastructure.

Its mission is to raise awareness of the problem of attacks on health workers, facilities, transport systems, and clients.

It works with national and global organizations to strengthen the documentation of such attacks and hold violators accountable.

And it helps local groups to achieve the same goals.
(Eagle News Service)