Fri | Apr 16, 2021

COVID-19 pandemic fuels attacks on health workers globally

Published:Tuesday | March 2, 2021 | 9:25 AM
Nurses and supporters in Owo, Nigeria participate in a march on February 7, 2021, demanding the Federal Medical Centre in Owo provide security for its staff after two nurses were attacked by the family of a deceased COVID-19 patient. A new report identified hundreds of threats or acts of violence against healthcare workers and facilities last year linked to fear or frustration around the coronavirus. (Tochukwu Q.O. via AP)

Two Nigerian nurses were attacked by the family of a deceased COVID-19 patient.

One nurse had her hair ripped out and suffered a fracture. The second was beaten into a coma.

Following the assaults, nurses at Federal Medical Centre in the Southwestern city of Owo stopped treating patients, demanding the hospital improve security.

Almost two weeks passed before they returned to work with armed guards posted around the clock.

“We don’t give life. It is God that gives life. We only care or we manage,” said Francis Ajibola, a local leader with the National Association of Nigeria Nurses and Midwives.

The attack in Nigeria early last month was just one of many on health workers globally during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A new report by the Geneva-based Insecurity Insight and the University of California, Berkeley’s Human Rights Center identified more than 1,100 threats or acts of violence against health care workers and facilities last year.

Researchers found that about 400 of those attacks were related to COVID-19, many motivated by fear or frustration, underscoring the dangers surrounding health care workers at a time when they are needed most.

Insecurity Insight defines a health care attack as any physical violence against or intimidation of health care workers or settings and uses online news agencies, humanitarian groups, and social media posts to track incidents around the world.

“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,” said Rohini Haar, an emergency physician in Oakland, California, and Human Rights Center research fellow.

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

Medical professionals from surgeons to paramedics have long confronted injury or intimidation on the job, especially in conflict zones.

Experts say many attacks are rooted in fear or mistrust, as family members react to a relative’s death or a community responds to uncertainty around a disease.

The coronavirus has amplified those tensions.

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