In many parts of the world, healthcare workers are lauded as heroes, thanks to their work amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
But in Mexico, these “heroes” are harassed, mobbed and even assaulted over fears that they will spread coronavirus.
Recent estimates from the National Council to Prevent Discrimination – the federal government agency that ensures rights to non-discrimination and equal opportunity – reveal that around 44 attacks against medical personnel have been carried out since mid-March. Authorities say that the recent surge in cases in the country has triggered a wave of violence against doctors and nurses, with some attacks motivated by rumors that healthcare workers are responsible for the outbreak.
As of Friday, Mexico has 12,872 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 1,221 deaths – nearly 10 times as many as they had on April 1.
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For Dr. Alondra Jovanna Torres, the attack came as she was walking her dogs near her house in Guadalajara, a city in western Mexico. The ear, nose and throat doctor was walking home when she heard someone behind her scream something inaudible. As she looked, she felt a splash on the side of her face, and within seconds, her vision went cloudy as the liquid streamed from her left eye and down her neck. As the color from her medical scrubs faded, the smell made her realize that she had been doused with bleach. The attack left her with conjunctivitis and burns on her skin.
“At first, I was in shock,” Torres told CNN in an interview. “Then, I felt scared and angry.”
Other stories are equally gut-wrenching. Many doctors and nurses in Mexico report being targeted by trolls on social media, barred from entering their homes, denied service in restaurants and groceries, forced out of public transportation and attacked — just for wearing their scrubs.
For Sandra Aleman, a nurse in San Luis Potosi in central Mexico, the attack on her began when some children sprayed juice and soda on her white uniform as she was leaving a coffee shop on her way to the hospital.
“It’s COVID! Stay away from us!” the children yelled.
The children’s mother then attacked her, with the woman hitting the nurse in the face so hard it made her crumple to the ground. Aleman ended up receiving two fractured fingers during the ordeal.
“What’s wrong with you, Mexico? We’re just trying to go to work. I care for you – but you don’t care for me. No more attacks on health workers!” she wrote in a Facebook post after.
In other parts of the country, residents have blockaded roads to prevent healthcare workers from going back to their houses. A nurse who went to her home village in northern Mexico found herself locked out, with police escorting her to collect her things and leave the village.
On Monday, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador condemned the attacks, stressing that healthcare workers are especially needed in this situation.
“I respectfully urge the whole population to take care of health workers, to respect them, to love them,” he added. “We couldn’t do anything without health workers.”
Many public health experts, however, are increasingly concerned that the country isn’t prepared to handle a health crisis of this magnitude, especially after Lopez Obrador slashed funding for hospitals and medical centers by millions. Also, Lopez Obrador has continued to stick to his austerity program, even amid the coronavirus response. Based on data from the International Monetary Fund, Mexico’s budget for dealing with the coronavirus is the smallest in Latin America, amounting to only 1 percent of the country’s GDP.
All this leaves the nation’s 128-million strong population short of doctors, hospital beds and medical equipment. According to the United Nations, there are only 29 medical workers for every 10,000 Mexican citizens.
As many healthcare workers steel themselves for the impending outbreak, Torres has this request: “We don’t need to be clapped for and no one needs to give us flowers.”
“Just let us do our jobs.”
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