Sisters, nurses and doctors are attacked time and again. The fear of the invisible virus is fueled by fake news.
Alondra Torres was walking her dogs in Guadalajara when someone called to her from a passing car. When the doctor turned around, she suddenly felt a liquid that ran down her face and neck. “They sprayed me with water-diluted chlorine. It hit me in the eye, on the neck and on the shoulders,” says Torres. The attack caused conjunctivitis and a rash.
The 30-year-old is certain that she was the target of the attack because she was wearing her doctor’s coat: “It happened to me for the first time, but I know of other doctors who were attacked or insulted and threatened in a similar way. “
Threats and beating
In the corona crisis, doctors and nursing staff in Mexico not only often fight poorly protected and poorly paid against the virus – but also against hatred and hostility. The state anti-discrimination agency has registered more than 40 attacks since mid-March. The helpers, of all people, seem to be reacting to fear and insecurity – they are made into scapegoats during the crisis. Patients and family members take out their fainting and anger at health workers. But it is even more frightening when doctors and nurses are attacked by strangers on the open road.
In a clinic in Azcapotzalco in Mexico City, for example after the death of a Corona patient, family members attacked caregivers who wanted to prevent them from approaching the body. In Tijuana was about a caregiver slapped in the face in a parking lotwhen he wanted to get into his car after work. The perpetrators attack because they believe that doctors and nurses are infected and spread the virus.
“Ignorance, lack of knowledge and fear” triggered the wave of aggression against health workers, says doctor Alondra Torres: “The population must be better informed and stop getting information about the virus, especially from social networks.” A month ago there was a posting that said doctors were the carriers of the virus.
“We are people too”
In the government’s daily press conference on the corona crisis, Fabiana Maribel Zepeda Arias, the coordinator of state nurses from the Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social (IMSS), recently addressed the population: “It hurts to talk about what is happening to my employees “she said, fighting the tears. “We are people too, we also have families.”
In other countries, the population would applaud health workers, and nurses and nurses would receive letters of thanks. This veneration is still far too rare in Mexico. “We can save your life, please help us protect it,” said Fabiana Maribel Zepeda Arias.
Attacks and hostilities worldwide
Attacks against health workers are not just a Mexican problem: in the Philippines, health workers have become attacked with chlorine and bleach. In India Neighbors and landlords drive doctors out of their homes.
The World Health Organization WHO warns of a generally high risk of violence for health workers – between 8 and 38 percent of employees are at any time during their professional career exposed to physical violence, threatened or exposed to verbal aggression. Most of the violence, according to WHO, would be from patients and visitors. But crises and conflicts also lead to attacks by strangers.
“We have seen attacks of this kind against medical personnel, but also against patients, like Ebola,” says the director of MSF in Mexico and Central America, Loic Jaeger. “My impression is that there is a fear of the virus, which is invisible and cannot be attacked – instead, health workers or patients are attacked.”
Jaeger is cautiously optimistic: “The vast majority support the work of health workers,” he believes. However, the psychological effects of the attacks are enormous, since they would increase the stress of the doctors and nurses.
The pandemic in Mexico has not even reached its peak, so far 23,500 corona infections have been discovered, more than 2,000 people have died from the effects of the virus. In recent weeks, doctors and nurses have taken to the streets in several cities across the country and have protested the lack of medical and protective equipment.
Digital applause for the helpers
“The pandemic will not go away tomorrow, it will keep us busy for months, and health professionals will be increasingly exhausted,” says Loic Jaeger of Doctors Without Borders. “They have to get up every day to fight the virus, their families are afraid for them – and then there are attacks. That affects the energy they need to do their job.”
As a reaction to the attacks, hospitals have now increased their security measures in many places, some of them are being guarded by state security forces. And health workers are instructed to come to work in civilian clothes.
Médecins Sans Frontières is trying to motivate nurses with a digital campaign – the organization has called for videos for health workers to be posted on social networks such as under the hashtag # FuerzaEquipoMédico Twitter, Facebook or Instagram to share. Illustrators have made drawings, people publish video messages in which they form a heart with their hands.
Alondra Torres is now “completely healthy” again, as she says – the chlorine attack did not cause any long-term physical damage. In the future, however, she will no longer identify herself as a doctor on the street, only wear her smock at work – so as not to become the target of hatred again.