‘Devastating tally’: Amnesty International urges Pakistan to protect health workers


Islamabad : The Amnesty International wrote a letter to Pakistan’s Health Minister Dr Zafar Mirza on Wednesday regarding the rise in coronavirus infections among the healthcare workers and attacks targeting them, saying that more than 5,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 58 deaths was a ‘devastating tally’.

In the open letter, the global human rights watchdog stated it was writing the letter out of extreme concern for the safety of the health workers in the country.

“While everyone remains at risk of contracting COVID-19, health workers are particularly vulnerable as they are consistently and repeatedly exposed to the virus. As of 29 June 2020, official figures record at least 5,367 health workers across Pakistan being infected with COVID-19, with 58 dead as a result. This is a devastating tally,” wrote the Amnesty International.

The AI called for the state to protect doctors, nurses, paramedical staff, ambulance drivers, and others across Pakistan, who are risking their lives during the coronavirus pandemic.

The organization said that it has also come across several incidents of violence against doctors and the medical staff, including one member being shot at by a security forces member.

“The Young Doctors Association says health workers are being attacked on a daily basis and that the exact number is ‘beyond count’.”

The letter mentioned that most of the attacks came due to contention over following the virus SOPs or handling of bodies of those who died of the disease.

Quoting incidents of vandalisation in Karachi, Peshawar and other cities, the AI said that there are multiple videos of ‘doctors and nurses being harassed online’.

The human rights’ body said that the media reports stated that at least 20 attacks on medical staff took place in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa alone.

“There have been several statements from ministers claiming that hospitals have the necessary resources, despite reports that hospitals have been forced to turn away even critical patients, given the shortage of beds, ventilators and other life-saving equipment. This puts health workers in danger as people do not believe them when they say they do not have room for more patients.”

Here’s what the Amnesty International urges Pakistan to do

The global human rights watchdog, while acknowledging the difficulties faced by relatives of the infected patients, said that Pakistan should take adequate measures and allocate resources to protect people and the healthcare workers.

The organisation also laid out some points for the protection and safety of healthcare workers, in hopes that the country will put it to implementation.

  • Promptly investigate any attacks or acts of violence against health workers in a thorough, independent and impartial manner, and perpetrators must be brought to account.
  • Make explicit a zero-tolerance attitude to violence and discrimination against health workers. In doing so, acknowledge that some health workers may be at additional or specific risk due to their multiple and intersecting identities, and this should be factored into the response.
  • Ensure that employers – whether public or private provide all health workers with adequate PPE to protect themselves during the COVID-19 pandemic, in line with international standards.
  • Immediately put in place protocols to ensure that managers of all facilities where health workers work conduct an analysis of what risks their staff face regarding violence and put in place adequate security measures to address these threats.
  • Set up systems to document any violent incidents, discrimination and/or stigmatization faced by health workers during the COVID-19 pandemic and encourage workers to report such incidents promptly.