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Health workers harassed, vilified while on the pandemic’s front lines

Doctors, nurses and even pharmacists risk being associated with the virus' spread, not treatment

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Health care workers are facing the wrath of paranoid members of the public during the coronavirus pandemic. File photo / Cuartoscuro

Mexico’s Health workers on the front line in the war on coronavirus also face the public’s aggression born of fear.

A young Merida nurse at IMSS Yucatan Hospital wrote on Facebook about an April 5 attack.

“While I was waiting for my ride, two people on a motorcycle threw an egg at my uniform,” wrote Rafael Ramírez, who works at a public health clinic. “I didn’t think these kinds of things happened in our city. I felt powerless not being able to do anything while they rode on laughing.”

“The action was a coward’s and it’s amazing that we have to endure this kind of aggression or humiliation from such ignorant people,” he also wrote. “We don’t deserve it. Am I afraid to go to work? Of course I am.”

His Facebook entry made world news when the Associated Press quoted him in a wire report.

Federal authorities have pleaded for Mexicans to show solidarity, but astonishingly, health workers have been treated as pariahs. Earlier, an Uber driver came to the rescue of a uniformed nurse forced off a public bus.

Elsewhere, harassment of medical personnel in Guadalajara became a daily occurrence in recent weeks. A hospital in second-largest city told staff to wear civilian clothes to and from work.

A group of cab drivers calling themselves “Code Red” banded together there to offer free or reduced cost rides to health workers.

Other medical personnel have reported attacks and this week someone threw flammable liquid on the doors of a new hospital under construction in Nuevo Leon.

“There have been cases, you could say isolated, but all outrageous,” Mexican undersecretary of health Hugo López-Gatell said Monday night. “Fear produces irrational reactions, reactions that make no sense, have no foundation and have no justification when they have to do with respecting the dignity and the physical integrity of people.”

It also comes as the Mexican government has embarked in a massive recruiting drive to bolster the thin ranks of its public health system before the virus hits with its full force.

“It’s even more outrageous when it concerns the health professionals that we all depend on in this moment, because they are on the front lines facing this epidemic,” López-Gatell said. “The declaration is of indignation and a demand that this not occur because it is completely punishable, sanctionable and won’t be allowed.”

In Morelos late last month, residents of the rural community of Axochiapan protested outside their local hospital, which they heard might be used to treat coronavirus patients. When the hospital director came out to say nothing had been decided yet, a man shouted that they would burn the hospital down.

The hospital attacked this week in Sabinas Hidalgo, Nuevo Leon had been turned over to the military to receive COVID-19 patients.

It’s not just in Mexico. In Argentina, each night residents go out to their balconies or windows to applaud those working in the health system. But in one incident, a group of residents in an apartment building advised a doctor living there that she not be in the building’s common spaces or risk legal consequences. They told her to “not touch door handles, stairway railings and to not be on the terrace.”

In another case, a pharmacist found a sign on his building’s elevator telling him he should leave the building to not spread the virus to his neighbors. He reported it to authorities.

“We can’t applaud at 9 at night and discriminate at 9 in the morning,” a rights advocate told a reporter.

With information from The Associated Press

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