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Homeland Security

ICRC: 600 violent cases recorded against healthcare providers due to COVID-19

IRNA - Islamic Republic News Agency

Tehran, August 18, IRNA -- More than 600 incidents of violence, harassment, or stigmatization against healthcare workers, patients, and medical infrastructure in relation to COVID-19 cases have been recorded by the International Committee of the Red Cross during the first six months of the pandemic, ICRC announced.

Of the 611 incidents across more than 40 countries, more than 20 percent involved physical assaults, 15 percent were incidents of fear-based discrimination, and 15 percent were verbal assaults or threats. Worryingly, this figure reflects only the known incidents; the actual figure is likely much higher.

The release of this new data coincides with World Humanitarian Day on August 19, a day to commemorate humanitarian workers killed and injured in their work and to honor health workers providing life-saving support and protection to people in need.

"This crisis has put healthcare workers in harm's way at a time when they are needed the most. Many have been insulted, harassed, and subject to physical violence. This atmosphere of fear, which is often compounded by a lack of adequate personal protective equipment, is adding significant stress to their physical and mental health and that of their families," said Maciej Polkowski, the head of ICRC's Health Care in Danger initiative. "These attacks have a devastating impact on access to and provision of health care when many health systems are overwhelmed."

When incidents were committed by community members, fear of the spread of COVID-19 played a significant role. When patients or their relatives were behind the acts, grievances related to a relative's death or fear of their death were the most prominent motives. The inability to carry out rituals such as burials due to COVID-19 restrictions also prompted some relatives to commit aggressive actions against healthcare staff or facilities.

Some examples of incidents that occurred in April and May include:

In Afghanistan, the main COVID-19 isolation centre closed for a half-day due to a physical altercation between relatives of a patient who had died and health personnel.

In Bangladesh, bricks were thrown at the house of a doctor after he tested positive for COVID-19 in a bid to force him and his family from the area.

In the Central African Republic, relatives of a deceased person physically assaulted health personnel as they were frustrated by not being able to retrieve the body due to COVID restrictions.

In Colombia, residents obstructed ambulances from entering their town to screen for COVID-19 cases and reviewed confidential medical charts and the names of staff and patients.

In Pakistan, doctors at a hospital were verbally and physically attacked after a patient died of COVID-19. Relatives entered a high-risk area while shouting that coronavirus was a hoax.

In the Philippines, a health worker and his sons were forced to leave home after being harassed, discriminated, and cut off from electricity by neighbours.

Among the incidents against a person, 67% targeted healthcare personnel, 22.5% targeted the wounded and sick (including suspected patients), and 5% were aimed at IDPs or refugees.

The ICRC is calling for governments and communities to address misinformation fuelling these incidents, and to ensure that all healthcare professionals have a safe working environment.

Incidents of violence against healthcare are not inevitable. Concrete measures can be taken to reduce the risk that health staff, patients, or medical facilities are attacked.

"Fear of contracting the disease and the lack of basic knowledge concerning COVID-19 are often the underlying reasons behind violent acts against health care personnel and patients," said Dr. Esperanza Martinez, the ICRC's head of health. "To protect health care staff, medical facilities, and patients from violence, it is of paramount importance to disseminate accurate information regarding the origin and modes of transmission and prevention of COVID-19. Health care workers, patients, or specific groups must not be stigmatized or blamed for the presence or spread of the virus. We need to strengthen our collective sense of humanity if we are to make it through this pandemic."


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