They are the first line of defense against the COVID-19 pandemic. But in Mexico, unlike what happens in other countries, doctors and nurses have been victims of harassment and attacks that have become so common that the federal authorities have asked the population to show solidarity and end threats to health personnel.
In recent weeks, the civil hospital of Guadalajara, in western Mexico, asked its nurses not to wear uniforms because some public transport units refused to serve them, while other health officials have reported physical attacks in southern Mexico and in the north of the country, unknown persons threw flammable material at the door of a new hospital.
“There have been cases, one could say isolated, but they are all outrageous, they are regrettable. And what they show is a phenomenon that is natural but in no way justifiable, which is that fear produces irrational reactions, it produces reactions that have no sense, no foundation,” said Hugo López Gatell, Mexico’s undersecretary for Prevention and Health Promotion.
He added that it is even more outrageous when it comes to professionals “on whom we all depend at the moment.”
In Guadalajara, the second-most populous city in the country after Mexico City, cases of assaults or acts of discrimination for wearing medical uniforms have been daily in recent weeks.
Edith Mujica Chávez, president of the Inter-institutional Commission of Nurses of the State of Jalisco, denounced physical and verbal attacks on the workers who have even been sprayed with chlorine water for fear of contagion.
The Commission sent a letter to the Governor of the state of Jalisco, Enrique Alfaro, in which she asked for help and condemns the attacks.
“We know that we are all at risk of public health material, but violence should never be tolerated, even if we are frightened by the spread of the coronavirus,” the Commission said in the brief. “We must maintain mental health and share information so that they know that in nursing we are not enemies of society.”
A group of taxi drivers offered to give free transportation or charge lower rates to Guadalajara health personnel while the authorities take some institutional measure.
But that is not the only place in Mexico where attacks have been reported.
“While I was waiting for my transport, two guys on motorcycles threw an egg at me in my uniform. I thought that this kind of thing did not happen in our city, I felt helpless when I couldn’t do anything while they were laughing out loud,” wrote nurse Rafael Ramírez on his Facebook account. “We are the ones that are facing this contingency at the moment and I wonder if this is the way they are encouraging us to continue working.”
Ramírez works in a clinic of the Mexican Institute of Social Security in Mérida, Yucatán, in the south of the country.
At the end of last month, a group of residents of Axochiapan, in the state of Morelos, south of the capital, threatened to burn the Ángel Ventura Neri hospital if they received patients with coronavirus.
In Sabinas Hidalgo, a municipality in the state of Nuevo León, in the north, unidentified people set fire to part of a hospital under construction that had been transferred to the Ministry of Defense to receive patients with COVID-19.
“Threatening the physical integrity of medical personnel or affecting the operation of the hospital infrastructure intended at this time to attend to the health emergency violates the response capacity that the population requires,” said Víctor Hugo Borja, director of Medical Benefits of the Mexican Institute from Social Security. “For us, the physical integrity of our medical structure is essential to guarantee the care of all Mexicans. We ask them to stop the attacks against health personnel.”
The pandemic has infected more than 1.38 million people and killed more than 76,500 worldwide, according to the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering, which bases its data on reports from the governments of each country.
In most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that disappear in two to three weeks. But in some people, especially older adults and those with underlying health conditions, it can cause more serious illness and even death.