The safety of health-care workers on COVID-19 duty is paramount
‘Primum non nocere’ is the primary, guiding principle of bioethics. Every health-care worker is oriented on the principle of ‘First, do no harm’ during their training. All medical training is based on this idea, but very little in what they learn prepares them for the reverse: When harm is inflicted upon them. Over the past week, chilling stories of assaults on health-care workers, on COVID-19 duty, have been reported. Visuals beamed in of angry locals who threw stones at doctors, health-care workers and civic officials who went to screen people in Indore, Madhya Pradesh. Two women doctors were injured. Earlier, there were reports of locals in Ranipura allegedly spitting at officials as they took up screening. Last week, doctors at Hyderabad’s Gandhi Hospital were attacked after a patient with multiple co-morbidities died of COVID-19. Doctors there even sought police protection. ASHA workers were reportedly attacked in Bengaluru, Karnataka, when they went to collect data on COVID-19 symptoms. Locals grabbed their bags and cellphones, and the police finally had to rescue them. In Mumbai’s Dharavi, police personnel who went to ensure that lockdown conditions were being followed — after a person tested positive in the locality — were assaulted by local youth. A case has been registered at Kayathar police station in Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu, after 12 people allegedly assaulted a health inspector and his team when they went there to isolate the family of a patient who had attended the Nizamuddin conclave.
These attacks are a result of paranoia and are completely unmindful of the many risks health-care workers take on, merely doing their work in a pandemic situation such as this. In Wockhardt, doctors and workers have tested positive while treating patients. If these helpers are looked upon as the enemy, it only allows the true foe — the virus — to gather strength. WHO too has developed guidelines for addressing workplace violence in the health sector to support the development of violence prevention policies in non-emergency settings. Their applicability in this situation must be examined. Baskut Tuncak, UN Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes, hailed health-care workers as heroes who must be protected. Stating that the tireless work and self-sacrifice of these workers show the best of humanity, he also went on to emphasise that unacceptable shortages in critical protective equipment that can stop them from being infected, continue to plague nearly all nations battling COVID-19. The responsibility of restoring order and ensuring the safety of all health workers, whether with personal protective equipment, or against attacks from the public ultimately rests with the government, and in equal measure, the people.