Protecting Health Workers’ Safety Around the World

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Leah Sarah Peer, a medical student at Saint James School of Medicine. She is affiliated to the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writer and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.


The right to health is a universal privilege, not just for patients and their families but for all human beings; including health workers. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare systems have collapsed, emergency rooms filled with patients and physicians fulfilling their duty are fatigued beyond burnout. In living up to the principles of the Hippocratic Oath, health workers continue to be on the frontlines exposing themselves to hazardous materials such as pathogen exposures, long working hours, psychological distress, fatigue, stigma and physical violence.

When citizens quarantined, health professionals were at the hospital. In these situations of tension, the obligation of physicians to their patients was honoured as they sought to first and foremost preserve health and save life. As a global community of medical students, in order to ensure patient safety, healthcare workers need to be protected and respected for their sacrifices and commitment. In order to enable the provision of the highest standard of care to patients, ensuring their safety and human rights is essential. If not, they might not be able to provide care, and patients will suffer.

Within areas of conflict, healthcare personnel should be able to attend to the sick and to carry their duties freely and independently without the fear of punishment or intimidation. Caring for the wounded should not be a risk but an opportunity to fulfil their profession’s call of duty. Unfortunately, humanitarian agencies such as Doctors Without Borders, the Red Crescent Societies, and the International Federation of the Red Cross continue to be victims of violence where the delivery of healthcare is frequently obstructed with the wounded deprived of essential treatment and services. Physicians in such scenarios are prevented from attending to the injured, and as a result of tension between states, suffer from attacks on medical facilities, ambulances and endanger their own lives.

Additionally, health workers around the world face stigma and discrimination. In Mexico, healthcare personnel were denied access to public transport forcing them to bike to hospitals, while in Malawi, physicians were publicly insulted and evicted from apartments1. Members of the health profession in India have faced social ostracism, attacks while on duty and even abandonment1. In just moments, the global community’s sense of appreciation for these heroes serving on the frontlines has vanished due to self-preservation. Nothing justifies the violence and brutality doctors are subject to, nor the inhumane behaviour of society members.

At the root of stigmatization is the lack of education. In the minds of citizens in India and Mexico, people lack scientific information about virus transmission. As medical students, we are calling for the international community to protect the occupational health and safety of all health personnel. Providing mental health and psychosocial support, zero tolerance for violence against clinicians at the workplace, and amongst their community will assure health personnel’s highest standards of health and human rights. Only then, as a society, and global community, can we together overcome the prevailing health emergency and maintain the integrity of the noble profession.

References

1Bagcchi, Sanjeet. “Stigma during the COVID-19 pandemic.” The Lancet. Infectious diseases vol. 20,7 (2020): 782. doi:10.1016/S1473-3099(20)30498-9

About the author

Leah Sarah Peer is a medical student at Saint James School of Medicine, a Global Health Fellow and a Bachelor of Science in Biology with a Minor in Human Rights Graduate of Concordia University. In 2018, she graduated from Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec with a Bachelor of Science in biology and a minor in human rights. In mingling her passion for medicine with her human rights endeavours, Leah aspires to serve humanity beyond the bounds of medical knowledge. Additionally, she loves voicing her thoughts through writing as she believes being publicly vocal on issues that matter is the first step of committing to change.

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