Violence against doctors and medical staff is not a new phenomenon in India. However, in the light of the coronavirus crisis, outbreaks of violence appear to be increasing.
The Indian Medical Association (IMA) has indicated that 75 percent of doctors in India have been the subject of violence, intimidation, and/or harassment whilst on duty according to research published last year. Numerous instances of strike action have been prompted by violence against doctors.
The World Medical Association (WMA) wrote to both Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan and Prime Minister Narendra Modi following high-profile reports of violence and frequent strikes by the medical fraternity. The WMA asserted that “such violence affects profoundly health professionals in the discharge of their duty as well as their physical and moral integrity, with unavoidable consequences on the provision of healthcare and patients’ safety. Furthermore, the proliferation of such violence tends to make these acts a common occurrence, instilling mistrust against health professionals.”
Given the circumstances, it is not unexpected that individuals fearing for their lives amidst a pandemic — coupled with a lockdown that has left many out of work or, in many cases, homeless — turn their frustrations toward medical staff. Though unexpected, the violence against doctors is unquestionably wrong and the scale at which it is being reported is disconcerting to say the least.
Heath workers, who had gone for a check-up of individuals suspected of being infected with coronavirus, were attacked in Uttar Pradesh’s Moradabad on Wednesday, April 15th. “When our team boarded [the] ambulance with [the] patient, suddenly [a] crowd emerged and started pelting stones,” an ambulance driver said. “Some doctors are still there. We are injured.” One of the medical team claimed the crowd numbered around a thousand individuals.
Seventeen individuals have been arrested in connection with the incident, which left some medical staff needing treatment. The incident of violence is far from isolated, with many other healthcare workers being attacked, insulted and spat at when carrying out routine treatment and checks.
Reports have noted that a stigma is being established in which people fear the doctors and medical staff themselves are spreading the coronavirus. This has led to doctors and nurses not only facing violence, but also facing ostracisation from their communities. Some have even been evicted from their homes or threatened by landlords fearing the spread of the virus.
If India is to effectively combat the coronavirus, the population must cooperate with the medical community. Violence does nothing in this situation but to make a difficult and stressful job even more difficult and must be acted upon by the appropriate authorities in a timely and efficient manner.